St. Titus, Bishop & Confessor – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Titus 2:11-15
In Christ Jesus, whose abundant grace covers all our sin, dear fellow redeemed:
Back in the 1930s, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany coined the term “cheap grace.” He didn’t apply the term to God, as though God were giving something second rate to sinners. He applied it to Christians, to those who use grace as a cover up for sin, who care very little about repenting of their sin and amending their lives. They are like spoiled children who expect their overindulgent parents to bail them out no matter what trouble they get into. Grace to them has become so common, so expected, that they hardly value it anymore. It has become cheap.
The Christians in Corinth were guilty of looking at grace in this way. The Corinthian congregation was marked by all sorts of divisions. Some minimized grace and taught that the Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws needed to be kept for salvation. Others used grace as a license to sin and boasted about having Christian freedom even in areas that went against the Commandments of God. The Apostle Paul rebuked them for abusing God’s grace in these ways. We have this rebuke in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
We also have a Second Letter to the Corinthians, a follow up to some of the issues Paul had raised. In this letter, he mentioned a visit of his co-worker Titus to the congregation. Titus, who we remember today, was a Gentile man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem before they set out on their missionary journeys (Gal. 2:1). He was a trusted associate of Paul’s, so Paul sent him to guide and teach the Corinthian congregation.
When he arrived, Titus learned how strongly Paul’s Letter had affected the people. The congregation received Titus “with fear and trembling” (2Co. 7:15). They were not so much afraid of Paul’s messenger as they were of Paul’s message. They did not want to be found outside of God’s grace.
This same concern should be in the mind and heart of every Christian. We should want nothing more than to remain in God’s grace. But how can we be sure we will? We have been taught since our youth that grace has nothing to do with us. It is God’s undeserved love for us. Since it comes from God, there is nothing I can do to make sure I stay in it, is there?
It is certainly true that grace is a gift from God to us. We can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Grace means we owe nothing to God for our salvation. It is not a loan that we have to pay back by our good works or any other sacrifice. Grace is freely given. It reflects the love of the Giver and not the worthiness of the receiver (Rom. 5:8).
Grace does not cost us anything, but it did cost Jesus. The Apostle Peter describes the price of our ransom. It was “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pe. 1:18-19). Jesus paid for our salvation by the shedding of His holy blood. He suffered the torments of hell and death on a cross to save us. That was the cost of His grace. Grace is G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Such a deep love, such faithfulness toward sinners demands some response, doesn’t it? Think about if your reckless or negligent behavior caused millions of dollars of damage, and someone stepped up to pay the price. How would you react? Or how about if someone took care of your significant credit card debt or the debt on your property? You would be totally humbled. You would feel indebted to that generous individual for the rest of your life. I imagine you would want to live a life worthy of the gift.
If you would feel that way about the cancellation of a temporary debt of money, how much more to have an eternal debt cancelled? That is what Jesus has done for you. He cancelled your debt of sin and death and opened heaven to you. People used to give great sums of money to get their loved ones transferred from purgatory to heaven (and some still do). But that is not necessary. Jesus paid the price to get us right into heaven—no purgatory required!
God’s grace does not cost us anything, but it should have an affect on us. In his Letter to Titus, Paul wrote that God’s grace trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” It makes sense. Since Jesus saved us by His grace, shouldn’t we want to please Him? Shouldn’t we want to live the way God commands us to? To do otherwise is to abuse the grace we have been given. It is to treat it as something common, something cheap.
We want to show others how much we value God’s gift of grace by reflecting His love in the way we talk and how we conduct ourselves. We want them to know that God’s grace makes a difference in our lives, that it changed our hearts and minds. We are still sinners, but by God’s grace we are sinners at peace with Him because of Jesus’ suffering and death. We are mortal, but by God’s grace we have the sure hope of eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection.
Those who do not know God’s grace live very different lives. They struggle along as though everything depends on them. They carry the burden of guilt for many wrongs done and many good deeds left undone. They pin all their hope for progress in the world on elected officials and other powerful people, and they are routinely disappointed. They tremble at the prospect of death and grieve without hope at the loss of loved ones.
God’s grace makes all the difference. His grace allows us to look forward with eagerness and not backward with regret. It changes everything about our past and about our future. If we have failed and let down the people we care about, if we have caused hurt intentionally or unintentionally, we can move ahead by God’s grace knowing He looks with favor upon us and forgives our sins. By God’s grace, we can start out fresh again today and try to do better.
In his Letter to Titus, Paul speaks about how God’s grace works in the lives of His people, and how it leads them to show love to those around them. Paul writes that:
- Older men give evidence of this grace by being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (2:1).
- Older women are “reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They “teach what is good,” especially encouraging the younger women (v. 3).
- Younger women “love their husbands and children,” and are “self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (vv. 4-5).
- Younger men are also “self-controlled” and faithfully carry out their responsibilities (v. 6).
These loving attitudes and actions toward each other are given by grace, not because they are deserved or earned. We do not show love for one another as a reward, but as a reflection of the undeserved love God has for us.
By His grace, Jesus redeemed us—bought us back—from our lawless and selfish behavior. He shed His blood so He might cleanse us from all our sins and purify us for His work. We’re not just spinning our wheels anymore like unbelievers who have no purpose beyond satisfying their own desires. God has called us to carry out His will toward our neighbors, to love and serve them in His name, so they might be drawn to Him and receive His grace.
These are the things Paul charged Titus to do and teach as a pastor and bishop. He left Titus on the island of Crete, so Titus could help establish congregations and appoint pastors to serve them. Though his work occasionally took him to other places (2Ti. 4:10), he is thought to have died in Crete at an old age (c. A. D. 96). He no doubt had many administrative tasks to carry out, but his primary work was to administer the means of grace.
The same is true for pastors still today. Our calling from God through the congregations we serve is to administer the means of grace. It is to deliver and apply God’s grace in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word. But before we apply the Gospel, we must apply the law. We must remind people of their need for God’s grace because of their sin.
But once they are convicted by the law and repent of their sin, we declare God’s grace. We announce the forgiveness of sin and new life through Jesus. And so I declare it to you today: God has not cast you away because of your sin. He does not hold you to your eternal debt. He forgives you all your sin because Jesus paid the price in full. He met the cost of your salvation and eternal life.
He gave Himself up for you because He loves you. He wants you to know that His steadfast love never ceases, and that His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). He wants you to know that your life matters and that you are needed by those around you. He wants you to have the “blessed hope” in this life, the knowledge that He will come again in His glory to take you out of this world of trouble.
All of this is by grace. It is an uncommon grace. It was costly, not cheap, and it is yours in rich supply. By God’s grace you are different than you used to be. God has changed you from a servant of sin, Satan, and death to His child and an heir of life. He has given you confidence and hope not in what you do for others or for Him, but in what He has done for you. Salvation is by His grace alone, and that changes everything.
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 location in Crete)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, whose love and mercy led Him to sacrifice Himself for all people, dear fellow redeemed:
You have heard in recent decades about the effort to remove the Ten Commandments from public places, places like courthouses and schools. Critics argue that we need to keep church and state separate. Their issue ultimately isn’t with the Commandments themselves, though they probably aren’t too fond of those. Their issue is with the God who gave those Commandments. They do not acknowledge His authority or even His existence.
At the same time, those critics are hard-pressed to come up with a better set of laws. Let’s suppose they adopted their own rules which were the exact opposite of God’s Commandments. This is how they would sound:
- You shall have many gods.
- You shall not treat these gods with respect.
- You shall not listen to these gods.
- You shall not honor parents or any other authority.
- You shall not respect your neighbor’s life.
- You shall not respect marriage or be faithful to your vows.
- You shall not respect your neighbor’s possessions.
- You shall not respect your neighbor’s reputation.
- You shall not be glad for your neighbor’s prosperity.
- You shall not be glad for your neighbor’s success.
How would society look if those were the laws that governed us? We would have chaos. People would only worry about their own plans. It would be “every man for himself.” No one would care about his neighbor. The world would be a violent, scary, unhappy place—much, much worse than it already is. It would be a world without love.
And that is what is so important about the Ten Commandments. They are God’s Law of love, love toward Him and toward our neighbors. This is exactly how the Commandments are summarized in today’s text. An expert in the Mosaic Law approached Jesus and asked what it is a person must do to gain heaven. Jesus told him to share his understanding of the Law. The man said, “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.”
That was a correct summary of the Ten Commandments. The first three are about love for God. The last seven are about love for neighbor. The problem with the man talking to Jesus, and the problem with so many today, is that they actually think they have loved God and others as they should. They think they have kept God’s Law.
So Jesus told about the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who was stripped, beaten, and left for dead. A priest came by and did not help him. Neither did a Levite, a worker in the temple. Help came from a most unlikely place. A Samaritan came by, tended to the man’s wounds, and ensured that he would be nursed back to health. The Samaritans and Jews did not like each other, and yet here a Samaritan man was going far out of his way to help a Jewish man.
You and I may think to ourselves that we would have done the same. Maybe we can even give examples of how we went out of our way to help someone less fortunate than ourselves. Or maybe we could point to the amount of time and money we have committed to charitable causes. Those certainly are good things.
But how willing are we to share examples of times we did not help a neighbor in need, times we did not show love? Maybe you are always ready to drop anything to help a friend or neighbor. But are you so ready to help the neighbors you live with—your wife or husband, your children, your parents? Or how eager are you to help the person who hardly seems to try to help himself?
There are times in life when our love for others has shined. And maybe we did not even think about being recognized or rewarded for our work. Other times we have done our duty toward others but not gladly. And sometimes because of our selfishness and pride we have shown no love at all.
If we honestly size up our life according to the Ten Commandments, we don’t end up looking very good. In fact, the Law does a number on us like the robbers did to the man on the way to Jericho. The Law is relentless. It commands love and does not stop pushing us along and throwing us back in line until we have kept it perfectly. This is why many try to ignore the Law or get rid of it altogether. The Law hurts, because we do not love like we should.
But the Law is not the only Word God speaks to us. He loves us. Here we are, stripped, beaten, cast down by the Law—His Law, which we have not kept—and He had compassion on us. He sent His only Son to rescue us. That’s who we should see in the Samaritan who went to great lengths to help the wounded man. We should see Jesus.
Jesus took responsibility for what got us into trouble in the first place. He was born under the holy Law, so that He could keep it for us. The Law did not expose His shortcomings and beat Him down, because He was perfect. He perfectly loved God with His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and He loved His neighbor as Himself. Examples of this love are abundant in the Gospels. He did not ignore a neighbor in need.
Sometimes love required that He condemn the Pharisees and scribes. Love does not mean affirming people in whatever choices they make. Love includes pointing out sin, so that a person recognizes his or her need for salvation. Jesus did this. He condemned self-righteousness (Mat. 23:27-28), sexual immorality (Joh. 4:16-18, 8:11, Mat. 19:9), disrespect for authority (Mar. 7:9-13), and many other sins. In today’s text and a number of other places, Jesus clearly spoke of the Ten Commandments as God’s will for the moral conduct of all people.
He fulfilled these Commandments which condemn each and every one of us. His holy life covers over even the most sinful life. And His death on the cross accomplished the complete satisfaction for all sin. So if the Law is fulfilled and sin is forgiven through Jesus, why does it matter how we live anymore? Why can’t we do whatever we like, since Jesus did everything needed for our salvation?
It is because salvation comes only to the believing, and faith lives only in the hearts of the penitent. Faith cannot survive in those who embrace sin, who take pride in breaking God’s Commandments. Faith cannot endure in the heart of one who shows no love for God or neighbor. Whoever thinks he loves, but does not repent of his sin and believe in Jesus as His Savior, does not love as God commands. He loves in line with His own desires, His own designs, and “the wrath of God remains on him” (Joh. 3:36).
But salvation does come to those who recognize their sin and repent of it. They know they have not kept God’s Law as He requires. They see they are dying in their sin and cannot stop the bleeding. But they also see Jesus, Him who took the punishment for their sin, who hung bleeding on the cross, so that they would not die in misery.
This is what Jesus did for you. He shed His blood, so that your sins would all be blotted out and washed away. He shed His blood, so that life would come to your dying body. He shed His blood, so that your heart of faith would be healthy and strong. He shed His blood, so that His love would flow through you and lead you to love others as He has loved you.
You have nothing to boast of about yourself. There is no place for pride. No matter how loudly the culture shouts it, Pride and Love Cannot Coexist. Pride is inward. It is focused on one’s own pleasure, one’s own happiness, one’s own glory. Love is outward. It focuses on the needs of others and the good that can be done for them.
God calls us to love as He has loved. Paul wrote that Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2Co. 5:15). This love of God in Christ is a great love, an unfathomable love. On our own, we cannot come close to loving like this. But God helps us to do better and to love more. Through the Law, He keeps us humble and guides us to sacrifice for the people He has placed in our life.
But the power to do His will does not come from the Law; it comes from the Gospel. Through the Gospel in His Word and Sacraments, Jesus equips us for this blessed work. He comes to bind up the wounds of our sins by bringing us forgiveness, and He nourishes and strengthens us by feeding us with His life-giving body and blood. The Holy Spirit also comes through the Gospel to sanctify us and cause fruits of faith to grow for the benefit of our neighbors.
Like the Samaritan did for the dying man, the Lord makes provision for all our spiritual needs. Whatever we need, He supplies. He takes care of us, so that we can be healthy and productive for our neighbors who struggle and suffer and hurt as we have and still sometimes do. Jesus blesses us with the gifts of His love, so that in Him and Him alone, eternal life is ours.
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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(“Parable of the Good Samaritan” painting by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Festival of Pentecost & Confirmation Day – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
The Holy Spirit descended from heaven in the form of a dove at Jesus’ Baptism, and He arrived on Pentecost with the sound of “a mighty rushing wind” (Act. 2:2) and made “tongues as of fire” (v. 3) rest on the disciples. But generally, no unique sounds or visible manifestations are apparent when the Holy Spirit is at work. His power is seen in the change that happens to sinners.
When Jesus appeared many times to His disciples after His resurrection, they did not immediately go around telling people the good news. This changed when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost. Now they preached boldly in public in the very city where Jesus had been condemned and crucified just fifty days before. Now no threats or punishments could silence them, not even when they were arrested and beaten.
Through the apostles’ preaching, the Holy Spirit brought thousands more to faith in Jerusalem. As persecution intensified, these Christians spread the message of salvation in Christ wherever they went. The apostles also went out on missionary trips, preaching the Gospel despite great opposition.
By the Holy Spirit’s power, people in city after city believed. In Ephesus, those who had formerly “practiced magic arts,” now burned their books valued at a large sum of money (Act. 19:19). The Book of Acts says that “the church” everywhere “was being built up” (9:31), “the word of the Lord was spreading” to Jews and Gentiles (13:49), and “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (19:20).
This powerful work of the Holy Spirit still continues among us. His power has not diminished since the first Pentecost. We can see this by the amount of believers who continue to gather around God’s Word. Without the Holy Spirit’s work, no one would believe the Gospel. But many do believe, not just here in this congregation, but throughout our country, and all around the world.
In recognition and thanks for the Holy Spirit’s saving work, we rise to sing our festival verse, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love” (ELH 399)/“Holy Spirit, God of Love” (TLH 230).
Text: St. John 14:23-31
In Christ Jesus, who manifested His love for us through His death and resurrection, and who sent out the Holy Spirit that we might be partakers of this love, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Max, Campbelle, and Olivia, on your Confirmation Day:
Why is it that we direct most of our prayers to God the Father or God the Son, but hardly any to God the Holy Spirit? This has a lot to do with how Jesus taught His disciples to pray. In His model prayer He told them to say: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” In another place He said, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Joh. 16:23). But the Holy Spirit is certainly also involved in these prayers. When we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, we are able to do this only by the power of the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith and keeps us in the faith.
At times we do also direct prayers to the Holy Spirit, and it is not wrong to do this. The Holy Spirit is equal in power and authority with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is true God. He is the Lord, and the Giver of life. He “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” and “with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,” as the Nicene Creed states.
One of the prayers to the Holy Spirit which the church has utilized for a long time is this one: “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.” It is a picturesque prayer. As the Holy Spirit once filled the hearts of the disciples and caused tongues of fire to rest on them, so we pray that He fills our hearts and kindles a spiritual fire within us.
But why do we need this? Why is it so important that the Holy Spirit come to us and work within us? We need His holy presence because by nature, we are sinful. As precious and innocent as we may have looked when we were born, we were not holy. King David expressed this reality in Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5). As sinners, we were separated from God. We had no communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But God is merciful. He established means by which we could be called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the living Word of God, a great number of sinners have been converted. They have been set on another path, a blessed way that leads to the mansions of heaven.
For the confirmand(s) sitting here today, this happened for them at their Baptism. When they were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19), they were claimed by this merciful God as His very own children. Their sins were washed away, they were given the gift of saving faith, and they became heirs of everlasting life.
Children are baptized in white gowns to signify the righteousness of Jesus that covers over them through the water and the Word. And they are before us again today in white gowns to show that they understand and treasure the gift that became theirs at Baptism. They desire to make a public profession of the faith that came to them by the power of the Holy Spirit. And they desire to have their faith increase as they will now be admitted to the Table of their Lord to eat and drink His body and blood for the remission of their sins.
Our prayer for them is that the Holy Spirit will continue to come and fill them as He has throughout their lives, and that He would continuously “kindle in them the fire of His love.” It is also our prayer for ourselves. The Holy Spirit must kindle this love in us, because we cannot produce it on our own or learn it from the world.
The world has a very different idea of love. The world defines love as the support of the lifestyle each person chooses. But this definition only applies to certain groups. In our society today, we hear that we should support those who challenge and fight against long-standing values of sexuality, marriage, and family. At the same time, any who hold those long-standing values are to be silent. Those who do not get in line with the world’s program of conformity are hardly treated with love; instead they are attacked, labeled, and subjected to ridicule. So much for the world’s version of love.
The love we want to have kindled and growing inside us is the love of God in Christ. God showed His great love for the fallen world by sending His only Son to pay the price for sin. God’s Son became Man in the Virgin Mary’s womb, and He lived a perfectly holy life under God’s law. Then He carried all of humanity’s sins to the cross where He made atonement for them by the shedding of His blood.
Jesus did this for everybody, even for those who would never call on His name, who would never believe in Him. He suffered on the cross for all people’s sins, as though He were the one who committed these sins. Imagine this love! Unlike our culture today in which one group of people is so ready to hate another, Jesus willingly suffered and died for His enemies! That is an unmatched love. It is a love that brings us great comfort when we struggle and when we fail to do what we should. Jesus died for these sins, and He forgives every one.
This great love of God also motivates us to do better and be better. How could we take a lazy approach to the Christian life when we see how focused Jesus was on doing His Father’s will? How could we ignore our neighbors in need when we see how Jesus humbly died for sinners? The strength to live for God and neighbor comes from the saving message of Jesus through which the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The Holy Spirit does not promise to come to us in any other way than through the means of grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacraments.
This is why Jesus emphasizes the importance of the Word in today’s text. He said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Whoever loves Jesus will “keep” His Word; whoever does not love Jesus will not “keep” His Word. “Keep” in this instance does not mean “obey.” Jesus is not just talking about obeying the Ten Commandments. The word “keep” means to “pay attention to,” “hold onto,” “keep close.”
This is what Jesus wants us to do with His Word. He wants us to value it as the greatest gift we have. He wants us to gladly hear and learn it. He wants us to fill our hearts and minds with it. This is what our confirmands have been doing the last few years, and we pray that it will continue until the end of their lives. As we hear and learn and meditate upon this powerful Word, the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit does what Jesus said He would do—He teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all things that Jesus said. In this way, He feeds and stokes the flame of faith ignited within us at our conversion.
So now we push our confirmands closer to the front lines of spiritual battle by ushering them to the Lord’s Table. But they do not need to be afraid. They go forward with the blessing of God, knowing that His Word is true and His love for them is unchanging. The Holy Spirit will confirm them in this faith more and more through the Word just as He does for all believers. And He will remind us how Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.”
We have nothing to fear in this world, because “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). God grant that we may all grow in this confidence day after day, until we are taken from here to His eternal presence. “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful people, and Kindle in Them the Fire of Your Love.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture is stained glass window from Saude)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of all but also the Servant of all, dear fellow redeemed:
If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you do today? Would you eat at the fanciest restaurant you could find? Would you make a trip to a place you always wanted to visit? Would you spend as much time as you could with friends and family? Or would you do exactly what you are doing right now – listening to Jesus’ Word?
We do not know when our death will come. But Jesus did. Our text says that “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” So what did He do? He spent the night before His death in service. On Palm Sunday, He was hailed as a king. But now on Thursday, He knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet, one-by-one.
The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ death was so close. But they certainly recognized how strange it was that their Teacher and Lord should wash their feet. It should have been the other way around, except that none of the disciples had volunteered for the job. In fact, that same evening they spent their time arguing about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luk. 22:24).
Jesus said to them that the pagan Gentiles are concerned about power and authority over others. But the disciples should practice humble service. “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But,” said Jesus, “I am among you as the one who serves” (vv. 25-27).
His demonstration of humble service by washing the disciples’ feet was a small sample of what He would do on a large scale the next day. On Friday, He willingly walked the path of suffering to Golgotha and was crucified in every sinner’s place. He could have carried out no more humble service than this. He was regarded as “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psa. 22:6). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:8).
If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was willing to serve in this way, then we should be willing to serve in even the humblest circumstances. We should consider no one below us. We should be ready to help any who are in need. Jesus said, “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.”
This is not the message we hear from the world. The world does not tell you to put others first. The world tells you to look out for yourself, to stay true to you. You need to stand up for your rights and have others bow to you. Is it any wonder that civil discourse is hardly seen in the public square? Almost no one is concerned about serving their neighbor. They are all concerned about serving themselves.
This selfish spirit resides in our sinful nature. It is the reason we are often reluctant to serve those around us, and why we become upset when others do not serve us like we think they should. It is why spouses keep a record of wrongs, why children pout when they do not get their way, and why people feud with members of their congregation and members of their community. We want to be served, not serve.
That is why Jesus the Foot-Washer had to come. We could not rise above our selfishness and free ourselves from the sin that entangled us. Jesus had to do this. He had to save us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. And He continues to do this work among us. Jesus told His disciples the night before His death that He had given them an example to follow. But that is not all He gave them. He also gave them His body and blood for their forgiveness and strengthening.
He took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” Then He took a cup of wine and said, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” In this way, Jesus would continue to come and serve them. He would come to cleanse them of their sins, and to equip them for their lives in the world.
He does this for us also. He still comes to serve us through His holy Supper. We do not deserve to have Him come to us; we do not deserve to be in His presence. And yet He visits us here. He comes to you and me—imperfect, stained, unworthy, guilty, unclean—and gives us His holy body and blood to eat and drink.
This is no symbolic exercise. It is not simply a way to remember Jesus, who is supposedly far, far away from us in heaven. It is not a time for going through the motions while our mind is set on other things. It is not a right we can demand simply because we have gone through the proper channels. Partaking of this holy Supper is a privilege, a privilege which should not be taken lightly.
Paul underscores this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He said that it is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to one’s harm. Imagine if the disciples had despised Jesus’ service to them as He washed their feet. Suppose one of them hardly acknowledged Jesus while his feet were being washed, as though it did not even matter. Or suppose another kicked over the wash basin and laughed at Jesus. We would say the recipient of Jesus’ service was not worthy of the gift.
In the same way, someone might come to the Lord’s Table who does not think that anything important is happening. Or he is not really concerned about repentance and amending his sinful life. Or another might reject Jesus’ words and laugh at the idea that Jesus would give His body and blood in this way. Paul addresses such thinking when he writes: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:27-28).
We examine ourselves by approaching the altar with humility, by recognizing that Jesus meets us here just as He says. He comes to serve us and bring us the forgiveness of our sins. This is not the time to insist on our own way, or to imagine like Peter that we know better than the Lord. We come to eat and drink trusting His Word, and we do not go away again empty.
Through His service to us in the Supper, Jesus prepares us to go and serve the people around us. He helps us to see the needy in our lives in the same way that He looks at us, with compassion and love. The same night He washed the disciples’ feet, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Joh. 13:34-35).
We confess our faith in Jesus not only by what we say, but also by how we live. We could quote a thousand Bible passages and demonstrate our extensive knowledge about what the Bible says. But if this is not coupled with a life of humble service toward our neighbors, our words will fall on deaf ears.
So whether we have many more years in this world, or whether our end is fast approaching, we spend our time by receiving Jesus’ blessings through His Word and Sacraments. Then we are continuously equipped to go out in our vocations to share His love with others. We pray that through our service, others will learn as we have that Jesus is not a vengeful Lord, one who is angry with us, but that Jesus Is Among Us as One Who Serves.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
The Festival of the Reformation | St. Simon & St. Jude, Apostles – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 15:17-21
In Christ Jesus, who perfectly spoke the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), so that sinners might repent and believe in Him, dear fellow redeemed:
For most of the apostles, we know something about their personal lives. We know their occupation before they were apostles. We know some of the questions they asked Jesus, and the statements they made. We can also read Gospels and Epistles recorded by apostles such as Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul. But we know very little about Simon and Jude, whose saint day has been established on October 28.
Simon is referred to in the New Testament as “the zealot” (Lk. 6:15; Ac. 1:13). This may mean that he belonged to a Jewish revolutionary force called the “Zealots” before he became an apostle. This group opposed Roman rule over Israel and was willing to use force to advance Israel’s independence. There is no other mention of this apostle Simon beyond his name and title.
Simon’s fellow apostle, Jude, is listed either before (“Thaddaeus”—Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18) or after him (Lk. 6:16; Ac. 1:13) when the twelve apostles are named together. Jude, or Judas, was a common name at this time, just as the names Simon and James were. There were two apostles named Simon, two named James, and two named Jude, or Judas. The only time the apostle Jude is quoted in the New Testament, he is clearly identified as “Judas (not Iscariot)” (Jn. 14:22). While it is possible that the apostle Jude wrote the second to last book of the Bible, it is generally thought that a different Jude is the author.
Historical tradition indicates that Simon and Jude worked as missionaries in Persia following Pentecost, and that they were martyred there at the same time (Lindemann, The Sermon and the Propers, Vol. IV, pp. 119-120). This may explain why their lives are commemorated on the same day. But it could also be because little more can be said about one than the other.
The apostles Simon and Jude are not important to us because of their personal lives. There are no lessons to be learned from their weak or courageous statements of faith, because none of those statements are recorded. They were two men chosen by Jesus to witness His wonderful words and actions over three years, and then to Speak the Truth about His death and resurrection “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac. 1:8).
We do not have personal accounts of their missionary activity. But Jesus’ words to the disciples the night before His death give us an idea what they faced. Jesus warned them that the world would hate them just as it hated Him. They would be persecuted on account of His name. And so it happened. The apostle James was killed by government officials (Ac. 12:2). The apostle Peter was arrested shortly afterward and would have been killed also, but he was freed from jail by an angel (vv. 3-11). The apostle Paul details many abuses and troubles he endured simply because of what he preached (2Co. 11:23-27).
What is it that makes the world react in this way? What is so scary about the Christian message? Paul explained that “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1Co. 1:22-23). The Gospel stands in the way of human thinking, and therefore it is opposed.
The Jews expected a Messiah who would come with great power and wow the world with His mighty works. Instead Jesus came in humility and suffered a wretched death on the cross. This is not what they were looking for in the Messiah. The Gentiles on the other hand seek wisdom. Their god is the human mind. If something does not match their natural sentiments, they reject it. In this thinking, there is no place for an incarnate God and a victorious resurrection.
This is why Jesus is rejected. The world’s unbelievers are not convinced they need a Savior, and they are offended by the Christians’ insistence that they do. They want to believe that they are basically good, and that they are in firm control of their own destiny. But the Bible teaches the opposite. It teaches that all people by nature are dead in sin and are on the road to eternal punishment in hell. Unless the Holy Spirit works faith in human hearts, they cannot be saved.
So every Christian should expect this hatred and persecution in the world, just as the apostles did. Christianity is a religion of self-denial in a world that preaches self-indulgence. It is a religion of humble faith in a world that preaches pride and self-determinism. It is a religion of love for others in a world that preaches hatred and revenge toward one’s enemies. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
But the primary problem we face as Christians is not the wrath of the world. It is the weakness of our own flesh and our constant failings. Jesus chose us “out of the world,” and yet we so often speak and think and act no different than those who still are “of the world.” We take the Lord’s name in vain just like unbelievers do. We exhibit anger and hatred like they do. We deny our sins like they do. We gossip like they do. We live selfishly like they do. We buy into the lie that the way to be happy and successful and to get the most out of life is to put ourselves first.
Suppose Simon and Jude and the other apostles had done this. If they did what was beneficial for themselves, they would have quietly left Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and gone back to their previous occupations. Or they might have preached while times were good and then stopped preaching at the first sign of opposition. But the Holy Spirit compelled them to Speak the Truth, no matter the consequences.
After Pentecost, Peter and John were hauled before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” But the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Ac. 4:18-20). How could they deny the One who had died and risen again? How could they fail to tell people what this meant—that sin is forgiven and death defeated? No better news than this had ever been spoken or heard. God had visited His people! The world’s Savior had come!
The apostles preached this message boldly and courageously, and their preaching turned the world upside down. The message of Christ crucified brought Jews and Gentiles, rich people and poor people, outwardly good people and outwardly bad people to faith in Jesus. They realized that all their attempts at self-justification were pointless; they could not save themselves. But Jesus had saved them. He had satisfied the righteous requirement of the law on their behalf and died in payment for their sin.
This is the saving truth that has been passed along from generation to generation until it has come to you. You also are a sinner whom Jesus redeemed with His own blood, and whom He has clothed in His righteousness. You may have failed again and again and joined in the sins of the world again and again, but Jesus grants you forgiveness again and again through His Word and Sacraments.
You would not know the good news of your salvation except for the work of the apostles and all the faithful confessors who followed them. Besides remembering the apostles Simon and Jude today, we also remember the work of Martin Luther and his fellow reformers. We know far more about Luther than we know about Simon and Jude. But Luther from 500 years ago and Simon and Jude from 2,000 years ago are significant for the same reason: They proclaimed the pure Gospel message. They counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Ph. 3:8).
We honor the memory of these faithful confessors by doing the same thing. We fix our eyes on Jesus. We hear and learn His Word. We Speak the Truth. We take up our cross and follow after Him. We servants are not greater than our Master. If He, the Perfect One, was persecuted, then we should expect no better treatment. If the God of perfect love was hated, then we should welcome the world’s disdain.
We have a remarkable illustration of this when the Christian church was beginning to grow in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had given power to the apostles to preach and to heal the sick. More and more were coming to faith through the Gospel. The Jewish authorities wanted to put a stop to the apostles’ work before the movement grew any more. So the authorities “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Ac. 5:40).
But instead of complaining about their injuries or shying away from their work, the apostles rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (vv. 41-42). This courage and strength did not come from inside them. It came from God.
That is where our courage comes from as well. Through the powerful Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith, so that we are prepared to Speak the Truth in every situation. Like the Apostles, We Speak the Truth about Jesus. We proclaim everything He has done to save us and the whole world of sinners.
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(“Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:1-11
In Christ Jesus, in whom we have been raised up and with whom we have been seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), dear fellow redeemed:
It is ironic that the phrase “Taking the High Road” was most likely coined by a politician, since politics is where “taking the high road” almost never happens. Politicians watch for any slip-up by their opponents and then portray the mistake in the most negative light. The primary goal is not justice or the promotion of truth, but political victory. And if a career is ruined by the mud-slinging, so be it.
The Pharisees of today’s text were like our politicians. They hated Jesus. They wanted His efforts to fail. They wanted to discredit Him before the public, and if possible, to eliminate Him. One of these Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him on a particular Sabbath day. This sounds like a neighborly thing for the Pharisee to do, but he and his friends had ulterior motives. We are told that “they were watching him carefully.” Picture them watching Jesus like a hawk watches its unsuspecting prey. But Jesus was not unsuspecting. The trap they were setting for Him would not catch Him by surprise.
In the room was a man with dropsy, a condition causing fluid retention and swelling in the skin. Would Jesus heal him? On another occasion, a religious leader had criticized Jesus for healing a disabled woman on the Sabbath. “There are six days in which work ought to be done,” he said, “…and not on the Sabbath day” (Lk. 13:14). It may well be that the Pharisees now brought this man with dropsy before Jesus as a test. Would Jesus break Sabbath law with so many witnesses present?
Jesus perceived the trap; he knew what the Pharisees were thinking. The text says that “Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees.” He answered their thoughts even though they hadn’t verbalized them. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” He asked. They thought this would be forbidden according to the law. They believed that healing would be work, and God said no work should be done on the Sabbath. If Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He must not be from God. This is how their thinking went, but they did not say a word.
Then Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. Now the Pharisees had Jesus where they wanted Him! But before they could level an accusation, Jesus asked how many of them would leave a son or an ox in a well on a Sabbath day. Would they call down that they would like to help, but it would just have to wait until tomorrow? Obviously not. They would do whatever it took to bring the son or the ox to safety.
What was Jesus’ point? His point was that the Pharisees should remember why the law was given. It was not given to promote an external righteousness, an outward keeping of the rules. God wanted His people to rely on Him and not on themselves. He required a day without work, so that people would set aside time to hear His Word and pray. This is how they would show love for Him according to the Third Commandment.
But this Sabbath requirement did not negate the other Commandments of God. If someone had fallen on the Sabbath, his neighbor should help him up. If someone were sick or hungry, his neighbor should carry medicine or food to his home. These things would show love for God by showing love to a neighbor.
Love for God and neighbor is the entire focus of God’s moral law (Lk. 10:27). When you wonder whether something is right or wrong, you should ask yourself if it is loving. Even if you know it is true, is it loving to spread gossip about a neighbor? Even if someone said a mean thing to you, is it loving to say something mean back? Even if someone invites you to share their bed outside of marriage—even if it is someone you love—is it loving toward God or the consenting partner to ignore the institution and commitment of marriage?
Today’s culture promotes a different definition of love. We are told that love means accepting and agreeing with whatever a person chooses to do. And if we question how others live their life, then we are called hateful. But Jesus questioned the Pharisees. Is it because He hated them? No, it is because they lacked the love that God requires, and He wanted them to recognize it. He wanted them to see that their concern was not for God or their neighbors; it was for themselves. That is the problem today. People are full of self-love. They think their choices are right even when God says they are wrong.
It is tempting for us to feel morally superior to these people. We do not do the things they do. We know what God’s moral law says, and we want to follow it. But self-love can work its way in there too. We imagine God must be pleased with us because we are not like the sinners around us.
But think about the parable Jesus told. Suppose you were invited to a wedding feast along with all sorts of criminals and sinners. Looking around, you hear some of the bad people boast about their evil deeds, while others hang their heads in shame. Then all are told to take seats at the table, but with this caveat: everyone is to sit down based on how good they are compared to others. The bad people not sorry for their sins immediately head for the best spots because they are only concerned about themselves. The bad people sorry for their sins shuffle toward the less honorable places.
But to which end of the table do you go? On the one hand, you could say that you have not fallen into the serious sins of either the boastful or the humbled criminals. You have not killed anyone. You have not stolen anything. You have tried to be a good neighbor. Certainly you should be seated higher than the bad people who are not sorry for their sins. But on the other hand, the standard of God’s law is perfection. Even if you have refrained from outward sins, what about the sins of your mind and heart? The scene could get ugly fast, with people fighting over the best places.
But Jesus says to you and me, “go and sit in the lowest place.” Take the High Road by taking the lowest place. The Letter to the Philippians says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3). We should not concern ourselves with what we think we are (pretty good), or what we think others are (pretty bad). We should stick with what we know. We know that we are sinners who have not perfectly kept God’s law. If the table in Jesus’ parable were God’s table, then no one would belong at it either in the high or the low places.
But still, we are invited to the heavenly banquet. We are invited because Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). He gave up the highest place, which was His by right. No one even approaches His greatness. He left the highest place, and took the lowest. In fact, He gave up His seat at the table altogether, so that there would be plenty of room for everyone else.
He showed perfect love for all, but they did not all love Him in return. When the Pharisees could not find any sin in Jesus, they told lies about Him and twisted His words. Then they got Pilate to condemn Him to death. Jesus could have dragged all their hidden sins out in the open, and none of what He uncovered would be a lie. He could have shown the ugliness inside every religious leader. But He took the high road. He said nothing while false accusations were hurled His way. Then He took the high road, literally, when He carried His cross up the hill to Golgotha outside the walls of Jerusalem.
This is where the perfect Son of God was crucified, the humble Healer of dropsy, disability, and most importantly, the sinful heart. He poured out His blood to wash away each transgression, including yours. Every sinful stain of your past, every failure to do and say and think what God says, every prideful judgment of the imperfect lives of others, the Lord forgives it. You deserve the lowest place, but Jesus has taken you by the hand and said, “Friend, move up higher.”
You have not always taken the high road—with your siblings, your parents, your spouse, your classmates and co-workers, your fellow church members—, and these sins may still trouble you. But while others may hold your sins against you, God does not. He looks upon you in grace as though you had never done anything wrong.
That does not mean you and I can boast about our transgressions. Nor do we have the freedom to sin as much as we like, just because we know sin is paid for. Humble children of God do not embrace sin. They flee from sin, and when they fall into it, they repent of it.
God did not create us for sin, but for righteousness. He created us to love Him and our neighbor. When our neighbor attacks us despite our efforts to love, then we pick up the cross and take the high road after Jesus. Nothing good is gained by “digging up dirt” on others and “slinging mud.” But much good is gained by a humble disposition toward others and a humble trust in Jesus.
The Sabbath rest that no person could obtain by his own efforts, is freely given us by our loving Savior. He has lifted us out of the pit of sin we had fallen into and brought us with Him to be seated at His heavenly banquet. Because of His humble suffering and death, we will be exalted with Him for eternity.
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The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who counts our kindnesses toward our neighbor as having been done for Him (Mt. 25:45), dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” was shocking to the lawyer. The only individuals in Jesus’ example who acted like they would be expected to act were the robbers. The robbers did not care if the man they attacked lived or died. They just wanted whatever clothes or possessions he had. They did what selfish criminals do.
The priest and the Levite did not do what was expected. They belonged to the “clergy class” of the Israelites. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what should be done for a neighbor in need. But they passed by the man lying half dead by the road as though he was not even there! They had their reasons, no doubt. This was dangerous country. Maybe the man only appeared to be injured. Maybe this was a trap to lure them in. Besides, what could they do for this man if he really was seriously injured? There were no cell phones to call for help. Probably someone else would be coming along soon who would be more qualified to assist him. However they justified their decision, these church workers did not do what they should have done.
The Samaritan also acted unexpectedly, but not in the same way as the priest and Levite. Many would have understood if the Samaritan passed by this Jewish man. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along. For this Samaritan, coming across a wounded Jewish man was something like coming across a wounded enemy on the battlefield. Three things could be done in this situation: kill him, ignore him, or help him.
You also have some choices when you come into contact with neighbors you have known for a while, or neighbors you are meeting for the first time. According to the Bible’s definition, your neighbor is anyone around you, anyone you interact with. The neighbors you have most frequent contact with are the ones that live with you in your home. These neighbors are in a position to share your best moments with you and your worst. They can be the objects of your love and affection, but they can also be the recipients of your impatience and unkindness.
Besides the neighbors in your home, you come into contact with other neighbors on a daily basis. Your classmates and co-workers are your neighbors. The people you share the road with and pass by in the store are your neighbors. The friends you communicate with on social media are your neighbors. It is relatively easy to be nice to our neighbors when they are nice to us. But what about when our neighbors act like our enemies? What should we do when they go out of their way to criticize us, or jump in line ahead of us, or attack our beliefs and values?
The last seven Commandments are summarized with, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These Commandments refer to all your neighbors, not just the ones you like. Jesus says that your enemies are your neighbors too. “Love your enemies,” He says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Your love for your neighbors is not based on what they do for you but on what you are called to do for them. The dying man on the side of the road could not do anything for the Samaritan man. But that did not sway the Samaritan. He saw a neighbor in need, and “he had compassion” on him.
When you come across a neighbor, whether he is polite or ill-mannered, selfless or self-centered, thoughtful or impetuous, your job is to have compassion, to show love, to be kind. Jesus never tells us to treat people like they deserve. He said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12).
In the home a husband might wish that his wife didn’t nag him so much. “After all,” he thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say that a wife should submit to her husband?” His wife might wish that he paid more attention to her and the family. “After all,” she thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say a husband should be willing to sacrifice even his own life for his wife?” Both are focusing on what their neighbor should be doing for them. But it is not the husband’s job to make his wife submit to him. And it is not the wife’s job to make her husband sacrifice for her. When a husband out of love sacrifices for his wife, and when a wife out of love submits to her husband, then the marriage functions as God intended it, and the home is blessed (Eph. 5:22-33).
If you view your spouse or your children or anyone else around you as a burden and a hindrance to your happiness, then you will be like the priest and Levite who passed by a neighbor in need. But if you see your neighbors with eyes of compassion, as those who need mercy and love, then you will see them as God sees them. Then you will see them as God sees you.
God saw you and all sinners in a condition much like the man who had been robbed and beaten on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. He saw you stripped of all righteousness, battered by your sin, and dying. He could not bear to see you in this state. So He sent down His beloved Son to save you.
Jesus gave Himself to be attacked in your place. He took the beating you deserved for your sins. Isaiah writes that “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:5). The holy blood flowing from His wounds brought about your healing. A beautiful stanza in one of our hymns about death says, “I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds; / There pardon for my sins abounds. / Yea, Jesus’ blood and righteousness / My jewels are, my glorious dress. / In these before my God I’ll stand / When I shall reach the heav’nly land” (ELH 530, v. 1).
Through the shedding of His blood, Jesus won forgiveness for sinners. We did nothing to deserve this compassion and grace. We had gotten ourselves into trouble. We had wandered off the safe path. Like foolish sheep, we had gone our own way (Is. 53:6). But the Lord had mercy upon us. Like the Good Samaritan, He began to heal the wounds of our sin by pouring on the oil and wine of His saving Gospel. He brought us into the inn of His Church through the waters of Baptism, and He continues to care for us there through His Word and Sacraments. Jesus’ forgiveness cost Him His life, but it doesn’t cost us anything. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift bestowed on us for our soul’s salvation.
Jesus was motivated to save us totally by His own love. If He waited to save people until they proved their worthiness, no one would be saved. In this, we learn how we should be toward our neighbors. Our love should not wait until our neighbors prove themselves worthy of it. Our Christian love should have no boundaries or limitations. No one has sinned against us more than we sinned against God, and yet He still loves us with a love that cannot be measured.
None of us has loved our neighbors as we should. There have been plenty of times that we left a neighbor lying by the side of the road. Maybe we were too busy with our own plans. Maybe we were tired of dealing with our neighbor’s self-inflicted wounds. Maybe we were bitter because our neighbor was not there for us when we were in need. At the time, our action—or inaction—may have seemed justified, but now we regret not being there and trying to help. We cannot make up for these missed opportunities. But we can move forward in grace. Jesus forgives our lack of love toward others.
His love for us is unchanging, and He does not give up on us. He has more opportunities planned for us—opportunities every day, every hour—to show love to our neighbors. But why does He keep entrusting us with the love and care of our neighbors, when we have failed so often? God knows how to accomplish great things even through weak hands and feeble efforts. Through imperfect marriages, He provides stability and security for the family. Through imperfect employees, He provides a vast array of products and services. Through imperfect congregation members and pastors, He provides for the administration of the means of grace.
The love that we show to our neighbors does not come from some storehouse of good inside us. It comes from Him. The Lord uses our mouths, our hands and feet, our talents and abilities to carry out His work of mercy and love in the world. This love has the power to disrupt the regular pattern of sin in the world. The world expects you to look out for yourself first and foremost. But what if in humility you put your neighbor first? Others will probably look at you wide-eyed, like the innkeeper must have looked at the Good Samaritan for going so far out of his way to help a stranger. Then you may have the opportunity to share with them the source of your love.
You love because God first loved you (1Jn. 4:19). You serve because He served you (Mt. 20:28). You sacrifice because He sacrificed Himself for you. Your life of compassion and care for your neighbors is simply a reflection of the greater love God has for you. He is the one who comforts you when you are mistreated by your neighbor. And He is the one who strengthens you to look with compassionate eyes at those around you, so that through you, they also may come to know His undying mercy and love.
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(“Parable of the Good Samaritan” painting by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who is “patient and kind,” “does not envy or boast,” and “is not arrogant or rude” (1Cor. 13:4-5), dear fellow redeemed:
Someone who is consistently selfish and mean lacks the credibility to tell others how to be better friends and neighbors to the people around them. It would be easy to dismiss such a person with a quick, “Why don’t you take your own advice?”
But when Jesus says, “Live how I live,” and “Do as I do,” His credibility cannot be questioned. He could speak with authority about moral behavior, because He never committed a sin. Not only did Jesus avoid wrongdoing, He also gladly served His neighbors. His disciple John remarked that if His good deeds were all recorded, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn. 21:25).
Today, we are blessed to hear the account of how Jesus served His disciples the night before His death. He set aside His outer garments, and like a lowly servant would do, He proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples, one by one. The disciples were perplexed about this. What was Jesus doing? This was no job for Him! The others may have verbally questioned this, but only Peter’s protest is given: “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Despite Jesus’ gentle reply that Peter would understand this in time, Peter blurted out, “You shall never wash my feet.”
And why not? Why shouldn’t Jesus wash his feet? Was this below Him? Should His position as esteemed teacher exempt Him from doing the work of a servant? If these things were the case, then Jesus would not really be as humble as He appeared. But high standing does not mean a person no longer has to serve his neighbor. “The greater one is, the meeker he must be” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, p. 268). Jesus considered no one as lower than Himself, even though He was the holy Son of God. He took “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
There He was washing the feet of Judas, who in a matter of hours would betray Him to the Jewish authorities for money. There He was washing the feet of the other disciples who shortly would abandon Him. And there He was washing Peter’s feet, Peter who would vehemently deny that he even knew Jesus before the night was done. Jesus did not wash the feet of these men because they deserved it. He washed their feet because He loved them.
Love compelled Him to clean their dirty feet. And love propelled Him forward to His crucifixion and death. He would go to the cross to atone for the sins of His betrayer and His fearful disciples. He would go to the cross for the Jewish and Gentile leaders who had His “blood on their hands,” blood which no amount of water could wash off (Mt. 27:24). He would go to the cross for every sinner—for every rebel, murderer, adulterer, thief, and liar. What wondrous love is this!
His love did not end at the cross. His love did not stop with, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). His love for sinners continued. He rose from the dead to give them victory over death. Then He commissioned His disciples to share the message of His love with “all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Two thousand years later, His love is still present. It is given you through His Word and Sacraments. You may feel unworthy of His presence, but He is not ashamed to come to you. Are you too dirty to receive Him? Are you embarrassed for Him to see what sins you have done? But that is why He comes.
He comes to wash you. He comes to deal with even your most unpleasant, odorous wrongs, just as He lovingly washed the disciples’ dirty, sweaty feet. This is what He instituted His Sacrament to do, to wash you of your sins. As you bow at the Communion rail, Jesus draws your eye away from your sin, and to His body and His blood. These gifts are “given and shed for you”—why?—“for the remission of sins.” Here, your sins are blotted out. Here, your transgressions are removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), as though they had never been committed.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He says your sins are completely forgiven in the Sacrament? It is hard to believe, since we are such great sinners. But He is a greater Savior, and He does not lie.
If we take His word of forgiveness seriously, as we should, then we should also pay attention to what He told His disciples in today’s text. He said, “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.”
You would not wish to be regarded like the spoiled child, who is glad to receive gifts and treats from his parents but despises their instruction. This is how people are who are glad to partake of the grace and comfort of Holy Communion, but who do not carry the love of Christ with them away from the rail. They are happy to hear that Jesus forgives them, but they are not about to forgive their neighbor who has wronged them. They are not about to take the humble servant’s role and see how they might better the lives of others, instead of giving the cold shoulder or trying to get revenge.
How often has this played out in your relationships? I am not talking about the times others have treated you poorly, but the times you have treated others poorly. Have you carried out your callings at home, at work, and at church “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”? (Eph. 4:2-3). Have you endeavored to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”? (Gal. 6:10). Have you done what you promise to do in the Lord’s Prayer—forgiven those who have trespassed against you?
This is what it means to love your neighbor. Love means stooping down in service like Jesus did. It means “washing the feet,” so to speak, of those who have betrayed you, lied to you, or hurt you. It means “washing the feet” of those who have been unkind or uncaring. It means “washing the feet” even of those who act like your friends but then abandon you in your hour of greatest need.
That is exactly what was done to Jesus. He knew it was coming, and yet He still loved. He loved the unloving. This kind of sacrificial love is what sets a follower of Jesus apart from an unbeliever. In that same upper room, our Lord said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35).
But that is so hard to do! How can Jesus expect us to love like He did? We cannot find such a storehouse, such strength to love, inside of us. But we can find it in Him. If He could love those who crucified Him, if He could love you and me, He can help us love those who have wronged us in ways great or small. He brings us the strength to do this through His powerful Word and Sacraments. Through these means, He invites us to feast on His grace and to drink deeply of His love. Then His love enters us and enlivens our hearts and moves us to do for others as He does for us. “We Love, Because He First Loved Us” (1Jn. 4:19).
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(portion of painting by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1267-1337)
The Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 3:13-17
In Christ Jesus, who fulfilled all righteousness for you, dear fellow redeemed:
In the home where you grew up, how often did you hear the words, “I love you”? Did you and your siblings ever say it to each other? Did your parents say it to you? Did your parents say it to each other? These words can be said so much that they are hardly noticed. Or they can be said so little that love is questioned. This is like when Lena asked Ole after thirty years of marriage if he loved her any more. Surprised at the question, Ole said, “Of course I do! I told you so on our wedding day!” As you know, it is not safe in a relationship to assume that the other person knows what you are thinking. Thoughts must be shared and communicated, even if it isn’t always comfortable to do so.
But it seems that we are at a disadvantage when it comes to communication with God. He knows all about us. He knows when we sit down and rise up. He discerns our thoughts from afar. Even before a word is on our tongue, He knows what we will say (Ps. 139:2,4). He knows what we are thinking, but how can we know what He is thinking? He says He had a plan laid out for our life even before we took our first step (Eph. 2:10). But what is that plan? Is there any way to find out?
There are some who try to discover the hidden will of God. They are always on the lookout for special messages and special dreams from God to guide them in making life decisions. Some say they can hear the voice of Jesus in their heads, or that they can feel the Spirit leading them in one direction or another. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a relationship with God like that? But more often than not, what people perceive as the voice of God is actually the voice of their old Adam or even the devil.
God does not think the way we do. This is exactly what He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). There are hidden mysteries of God that cannot be understood in this life. There are answers that must wait until heaven. So is there no way to know what God thinks about us?
We wish the Father spoke to us like He did to His Son. After Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God the Father could not have been clearer about His thoughts toward His Son. Jesus could go ahead with His saving work knowing that He had His Father’s approval. And why wouldn’t the Father approve of Him? Jesus was perfect.
But perfect, you and I are not. We are far from perfect. God gave us good to perform, and we did evil. He gave us work to do, and we shunned it. He gave us laws to follow, and we broke them. John the Baptizer did not mince words about people like us. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” he cried out. “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt. 3:8,10). Have you produced good fruit? Have you produced enough of it?
You and I are plagued with the daily evidence of our inadequacy. Yes, we put on a cheerful attitude at work, but our hearts are full of judgment toward our co-workers. Yes, we feed and clothe our children, but we don’t always view them as blessings. Yes, we voice our commitment to our spouse, but we let ourselves indulge in fantasies about others. Yes, we say we are thankful for what we have, but we secretly wish we had what others do. As much as we try to watch what we do and what we say, we struggle to control our thoughts. And the harder we try to control them, the more we are aware of our failures.
We shouldn’t imagine for a moment that our sins are somehow hidden from God. He knows about every last one. This is why we wouldn’t mind some reassurances from Him. We would like to know that He still loves us and is not angry with us. We want to be sure that we are not outside His grace, and that He will take us to heaven when we die. Is there some message He could send to make this clear? Yes! In fact, He has many comforting messages to send our way.
One of them is recorded by the evangelist Matthew, a message detailing the baptism of Jesus. What is confusing about this account is why Jesus thought He needed to be baptized. You and I know that one of the blessings of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus had no sins to be forgiven. So why did He want to be baptized? John wondered the same thing. Jesus told him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was not to gain righteousness for Himself; He was already perfect.
Jesus stepped down into the waters of the Jordan River for you, to take up your sins. When your hands are dirty, you go to the sink and let the clean water wash all the dirt away. The opposite happened to Jesus. Though He was perfectly clean, He let the sins of the world be poured out on Him at His baptism. This includes your sins, even the sins of your mind. Each sin was poured upon Jesus, and they stuck there. Now they were His to carry, and He would not be relieved of them until three years afterward when He breathed His last on the cross.
But Jesus did more for you at His baptism than taking up your sins. He also left His righteousness in the waters of baptism. He left His righteousness, so that when sinners are baptized, His righteousness sticks to them and stays with them as long as they remain in Him. The Apostle Paul writes, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor. 5:21), and “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).
So at your baptism, you “put on Christ.” You were covered in Him. What was His, became yours. His holiness, His atoning blood, His victory over death—all of these were given to you. By baptism, you were buried and raised with Him (Rom. 6:4). You were born again to new spiritual life (Ti. 3:5). You are not as you were before; you are a new creation (2Cor. 5:17).
God looks at you differently now. He does not see you covered in your sins, cowering in the kingdom of darkness. When He looks at you, God the Father sees His Son. He sees His obedience and His perfect righteousness. In you, He sees a beloved son, with whom He is well pleased.
Baptized into Christ, one with Christ by faith, you truly are a son of God. And why is it important that you are called a “son”? Why not a “daughter” of God, or simply a “child”? Those terms are fine, but “son” expresses something more. It was the firstborn son in a family who stood to inherit what belonged to his father. It is as the father told his oldest son, who pouted about the warm reception given to his prodigal brother—the father said, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Lk. 15:31).
All that God the Father has is yours through faith in His only-begotten Son. Jesus your Brother is not jealous about the kindness shown to you by His Father. He gave Himself in your place, so you would have this glory and joy. He was willing to do this because He loved His Father, and He loved you. He gladly took your place in the depths of sin, so you could have His place in the heights of heaven.
Jesus is the proof of God’s love for you. You will never be certain of His love if you wait for Him to send you special, personal assurances of it. If you wait for an “I love you!” to boom down from the clouds, you will be waiting a long, long time. The place to hear God speak to you is not in your head or in your heart. It is in His Word. This is where God’s love in Christ for all sinners is made crystal clear.
This love was personally bestowed on you in your baptism. In baptism, you did not choose God; He chose you. He made an undying commitment to you, which He will never forget and never break. Through those waters, you were incorporated into the body of Christ, as so many other blessed sinners have been throughout history. You were brought into the family of God, and placed alongside Christ as an heir of His eternal blessings.
This is where you stand with God, and where you will continue to stand by faith in His Son. Your humble repentance for your sins will not be met with a cold shoulder or with burning anger. Those sins were put on Jesus, and His righteousness was put on you. You are baptized into Christ. Your sins are forgiven. “[F]or in Christ Jesus You Are All Sons of God, through faith…. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:26,29).
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(picture is portion of 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
The Second Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 2:1-11
In Christ Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, who provides all that is needed for the eternal wedding feast, dear fellow redeemed:
Most of the things we do on any given day will not be remembered for long. We wouldn’t expect them to be. There is nothing too impressive about logging hours at work and taking care of duties at home. These are things that most everyone does. But there are certain events and happenings that people recognize as “history in the making.” This could be witnessing the home team win the championship. Or it could be having a visit from someone famous or receiving an award for a job well done. Moments like these are not soon forgotten.
A memorable time in the lives of many people is the day of their wedding. So much planning and preparation goes into that day—the guest list, the service, the reception hall, the clothing, the flowers, the decorations, the photographer. It all comes together in one grand event and culminates in a shared promise: “Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife? …I will.” “Will you have this man to be your wedded husband? …I will.” It is not an event that receives much notice in the world. But for the newly married couple, it is life-changing. Their history, which before this was tied most closely to their families, is now tied most closely to their spouse.
More often than not, the bride and groom feel great optimism on their wedding day. They are uniting with the person they love the most. Whatever the future holds, whether good or bad, they will meet it together, hand in hand. Their love will conquer all. No challenge or obstacle will affect them. It will only make them stronger and deepen their love toward each other. They cannot imagine what could ever pull them apart.
But no matter how much time and money are spent to make the wedding day a “perfect” day, that day is followed by another and another. The feelings of elation that came with their union as husband and wife begin to dissipate. They come down out of the clouds and face the challenges that have gone from theoretical to actual.
Before long, they experience the strain that sin puts on marriage. They learn things about each other they did not know before and are not sure they like. They find it difficult to resolve their problems and communicate effectively. Over time, husband and wife might withdraw from each other and seek answers or happiness in places that make their problems much, much worse. How could something that starts so well, go so wrong?
Let’s go back to how a marriage starts. As much as people worry about taking care of all the little details of the wedding day, one major thing often escapes their notice. They forget about one very important guest – the only guest that can make the day what it should be and deliver the kind of happy marriage that the bride and bridegroom desire.
A wedding and a marriage without Jesus is a union that must rely on two people who are thoroughly flawed. It must rely on their imperfect promises, their imperfect love, their imperfect commitment. Some of these marriages last, but many do not. On the other hand, a marriage founded on Christ and sustained by Christ is not easily broken. Then the power source to keep a marriage going does not come from inside a person, from the heart or from the will. The power source comes from the outside, from Jesus through His Word and Sacraments. The most important question for a man and a woman to ask as they prepare for their marriage is: Will Jesus be present?
Jesus was present at a wedding in the town of Cana some ten miles north of his hometown of Nazareth. The fact that He and His mother were invited along with Jesus’ disciples, indicates that this was the wedding of a relative or close friend. Jesus was certainly welcome, but He hardly stood out among the guests. At this time He had done no miracles. There was no excitement about Him like there would be later. But Mary seemed to be expecting this to change. When she learned that the wine for the banquet had run out, she immediately told her Son about it. “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?” He asked. “My hour has not yet come.” Undaunted, she directed the servants to “Do whatever He tells you.”
Meanwhile, the lack of wine threatened to cast a cloud over a joyous occasion. What could end a wedding celebration faster than the closing of the bar? As unfortunate as this was, it does not seem like a situation that required divine action. But Jesus thought otherwise. He showed that small problems are just as important to Him as big ones. He determined that this wedding banquet was the right place to begin to manifest His glory.
Now imagine that you were one of those servants standing at attention that day. What would you have been thinking when Jesus asked you to “Fill the jars with water”? You probably wouldn’t know what to think, except that you would be pretty sure this would do nothing to solve the wine problem. Still you would do as you were told. But when you were asked to “draw some out and take it to the master of the feast,” you would have imagined that this was a waste of time, and it might even get you in trouble. What could you say when the master of the feast asked you to explain why you bothered him to taste some water!
This is how it seems to people when we tell them that every marriage needs Jesus. What good can He do? How can He help my strained relationship? I need real solutions, not religion! But we shouldn’t sell Jesus short. He knows something about marriage. In fact, He is the one who created it. When the LORD took Adam’s rib and made a woman from it to be his helper, that was the institution of marriage. The last part of Genesis 2 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24).
“They shall become one flesh”—that is how God sees a husband and wife, as one. And from the marital union of man and woman comes children who are the physical manifestation of this oneness. The union of marriage is so sacred in God’s sight, that He wants it to endure until death parts it. Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:6).
Now we know that God permits divorce in cases of unfaithfulness or desertion. But nowhere in Scripture does God permit divorce simply because feelings have changed, or because husband and wife don’t love each other like they used to, or because they just can’t work through their differences. These excuses are not godly; they come from selfishness and pride. Just think if Jesus said, “I would love to have people with Me in heaven, but we just aren’t getting along. I’m just not seeing them step up like they are supposed to. If they change their behavior, then maybe I’ll change my mind.”
Jesus did not wait for us to show love to Him; He loved us even when we had wandered far away in sin. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Jesus did that for you and me when we deserved the exact opposite. We deserved the silent treatment from God, and for Him to do to us as we had done to Him. Instead He gave and loved and sacrificed, so that we could become something different than we were, so that we could be cleansed of our sins and stand in holiness before God.
The servants could never have imagined that the water in those stone jars would become fine wine. In the same way there are many who don’t think their marital problems can be fixed. Why even try? It would just be a waste of time. Jesus does not agree. He says, “For all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27). He made of water what no one thought He could, and He can do the same with a marriage, turning a sour situation into fine wine. The question is, are husband and wife humble enough, as the servants were, to draw out some water from the jar? Are they humble enough to listen to what God says in His Word? Are they ready to acknowledge their own sins and not the shortcomings of the other? This is a difficult task, but it is not impossible.
Not only is it possible, we know that God wants it. No matter what our station is in life, the Lord wants us repent of our sins and humbly hear His Word. What kind of people would we be if we knew all that God has done for us in Christ, but then live like it never even happened? We would be like servants who witnessed water becoming wine, but then ignored the man who made it happen. For their part, the disciples of Jesus believed in Him. They recognized “history in the making,” and knew that God had kept His commitment and promise to His people to send them a Savior.
God always keeps His promises. He promises to bless marriage. He promises to bless the hearing and keeping of His Word. He promises to bless those who bow before Him with broken and contrite hearts. He can fill an empty cup and make it overflow with sweet spiritual drink, so that thirst is quenched and the spirit rejuvenated. The Lord will not fail to do this because He Loves His Imperfect Bride and forgives all of her sins.
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(picture is from a work by a 10th century monk)