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.
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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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.
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)
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).
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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(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)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who “loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2), dear fellow redeemed:
Seeing the destruction caused by recent wildfires and hurricanes in our country is heart-breaking. But in the midst of these great difficulties, it is heart-warming to hear stories of neighbors helping neighbors. There are people who spend their days assisting in clean-up efforts in their communities, even though they themselves have lost their homes and possessions. Many others have donated toward relief efforts, with contributions for relief in Texas likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars. At times like these, reference is often made to “the natural goodness in people.” Others comment that their “faith in humanity” has been restored. In a society sharply divided by political and religious differences, these moments of charity and kindness among neighbors are worth celebrating.
But it is not the good in a person that causes them to do these things. It is God. He is behind all the assistance and charity and love. It is no stretch to say that if God did not put His moral law in every human heart, no trouble, hardship, or pain experienced by my neighbor would cause me to lift a finger to help him. But because God has given this inner law, my conscience tells me that it is not okay to ignore a neighbor in need. It is my moral obligation to help as far as I am able.
If you had to sum up God’s Commandments in one word, that word would be “love.” This is just what Scripture says. It says that “[L]ove is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). In the first three Commandments, God tells us to love Him, since He is our Creator and Savior. The last seven Commandments are about how His love should be shared with others: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 9).
But who is my neighbor? This is what a lawyer asked Jesus. It is an honest question, and yet the lawyer had ulterior motives. He asked the question, we are told, out of a desire “to justify himself.” He already thought he had fulfilled God’s requirement of love. Jesus answered him with an illustration. He described a man traveling on the road to Jericho (a journey which thankfully is not so treacherous around here). The man was attacked by robbers and left to die.
Along came a priest, one of his countrymen. Surely this “holy man” would help! But turning his eyes away from the dying man, he continued on his way. Another temple worker, a Levite, did the same thing. They acted like he wasn’t even there. Their plans were too important. They would not be delayed. No doubt someone else more qualified than they would come by soon. Perhaps they even calmed their consciences by saying that at least they would pray for this man. So it isn’t as though they did nothing….
There are many reasons we can come up with why we shouldn’t help a neighbor in need. We might tell ourselves that we are in no position to help. Others can provide much better assistance. Besides, I don’t want my neighbor to get comfortable with handouts. He should learn to work harder and help himself. And where was he when I needed help? What goes around comes around….
As logical as these reasons may seem, they are wrong. If I will not show love to my neighbor until it is most convenient, or until he has shown himself worthy of my love, then I probably won’t end up helping him at all. But God commands love for neighbor without any qualifications. Your neighbor, He says, is anyone around you, anyone whose life intersects in some way with yours. Your neighbor is the child who misbehaves and talks back to you. Your neighbor is the boss who unfairly criticizes you. Your neighbor is the teacher who blames you for something your classmate did. Your neighbor is the community member who doesn’t care how his plans affect yours. Jesus tells us to love all our neighbors, even the ones who treat us badly.
But how is that even possible? How can God expect you to “love your enemies” (Mt. 5:44)? A lot depends on the perspective you have toward another. If you imagine that their primary goal in life is to make you feel miserable, and that they are constantly plotting to harm you, it is going to be difficult to have kind thoughts about them. Then your mind will be occupied with revenge, how you might return evil for evil.
But what if the disagreement between two neighbors started with a misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up? What if your neighbor thought you were attacking her before she ever attacked you? And could it be that the unkind words your neighbor directed toward you, were actually the result of other troubles going on in his life? This could help you look at your neighbor not as an enemy, but as someone who needs compassion.
Or maybe it’s true – maybe your neighbor does hate you. This was likely the situation between the man on the road from Jerusalem and the Samaritan who helped him. The Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. The Jews accused the Samaritans of being godless, and the Samaritans accused the Jews of being self-righteous. So how is it that the Samaritan decided to help the man by the side of the road? Well he certainly could not control how the dying man thought about him, but he could control how he thought about the dying man. He decided to be merciful.
This is a picture of Jesus. He found us beaten up by sin, stripped of any righteousness, dying the death we deserved. We were His enemies. We broke His law. But He didn’t wait for us to be worthy of His love. He freely gave it. He had compassion on us. He bound up our sin wounds by taking those stripes on Himself. He brought us spiritual health through His Word and Sacraments, and continues to strengthen us by those same means. He loved even the most undeserving of neighbors, which is what He calls you and me to do as well.
But loving and helping your neighbors does not mean giving them whatever they want. If they want you to join them in promoting or defending sinful behavior, it would be wrong for you to do this. Or if they ask you to give them one of your treasured possessions, or even your home, you do not have to do this. The Lord tells you to be generous and to share, but He does not command you to give away everything you have. Your neighbor is in no way entitled to your property, your possessions, your spouse or children. In fact, God commands us to help our neighbor keep these things.
What you are obligated to do for your neighbor is to help him have what he needs, more than what he wants. And the greatest need your neighbor has is Jesus. You can desire nothing better for your neighbor than that he repents of his sins and believes in Jesus alone as his Savior. This is our greatest treasure. It is our life and comfort and hope. With Jesus, you can stand to lose all of your earthly possessions, because they are only temporary. In Him, you are assured of the riches of heaven, which will never pass away.
But how can you Give Your Neighbor Jesus? There are two main ways, and neither of them works well without the other. The first way to give your neighbors Jesus is to be kind and merciful toward them. Take an interest in their lives. Listen to their problems. Lift them up when they are down. Offer a helping hand. Encourage them. Cheer for them. Call them up or stop by to let them know you are thinking about them. In these ways, you will gain your neighbor’s trust and respect, and you will probably find a friend to help you in your difficulties. When you show love in these ways, you are really sharing God’s love. He is the one working through you. John writes that “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1Jn. 4:12).
But if your concern for your neighbor goes no further than assisting with physical and emotional needs, you have failed to give the thing that is most needed. Above all else, your neighbor needs to hear the Gospel. This is the second major way to give your neighbor Jesus. Your neighbor needs to know that a loving God watches over her and that He has sent His only Son to redeem her, so that she may live eternally in heaven. All people are dying just like the man by the side of the road. All of them need the salvation and healing that come only through Jesus.
And just as love for your neighbor falls short if you do not take the opportunity to share the Gospel, it also fails if the Gospel message is not accompanied by kind and loving actions. For example, you may have had the experience of a complete stranger approaching you in a store or the mall to ask if you know Jesus as your personal Savior. It is as though the message-bringer is just trying to fulfill a quota. He doesn’t spend the time to get to know you or find out how he can assist you. He just throws the Gospel in your face and hopes it sticks. That approach is rarely if ever effective in bringing about conversion. It turns people off to Christianity.
But when your neighbor has come to know your dedication and care for him, and sees the sacrifices you have made to serve him, he will be much more likely to listen when you share the message of Jesus. This is the outcome Jesus speaks about when He says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).
This light of love does not always shine brightly in your life. You remember many times that you ignored a neighbor in need. But Jesus does not pass you by, bruised and battered by a guilty conscience. He forgives you for the times that sin and selfishness overcame you. He gives you, His neighbor, exactly what you need, which is His perfect love and His perfect righteousness. With these things as your possession and your motivation, your neighbor will not fail to receive through you good things from God.
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The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, who saves us from destruction and from despair, dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus had been teaching and preaching for the better part of three years. He had gained many disciples, but also many enemies. While He was walking in the temple, the Jewish leaders surrounded Him and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (Jn. 10:24). Jesus replied, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (vv. 27-28). At this, they picked up stones to kill Him, but He escaped from them and traveled with His disciples to the other side of the Jordan River. Jerusalem with its heightened tensions did not seem a safe place for Jesus to be.
But then He received word that his friend Lazarus from the town of Bethany was sick. The problem was that Bethany was only about two miles away from Jerusalem. His disciples cautioned Him; they knew what His enemies would try to do to Him if He went there. Would He go? Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (11:11). Jesus was referring to Lazarus’ death and His plan to raise him to life again. When He arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. His sisters Martha and Mary were overcome with sorrow. They told Jesus what must have been running over and over again through their minds, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21,32).
When Jesus saw the grief of Mary and the whole crowd, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’” (vv. 33-34). Then Jesus did something unexpected: He wept. He cried right out in the open, in view of everyone there. Why did Jesus do this? He is God! Why would One who controls the wind and the waves, who kills and makes alive (Deut. 32:39), who knew what He was about to do—why would this One cry? Because a moment later, He commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. And Lazarus did. So why the tears when life and joy were in view?
Have you ever felt like the weight of the world was on your shoulders? That is just an expression. But Jesus actually did feel the weight of the world on Him. Isaiah tells us that He bore every grief and carried every sorrow (Is. 53:4). All the troubles and sins of the world rested on Him. And you can only imagine that the weight became heavier and heavier the closer He came to His hour, to the time that He would suffer hell and death for everyone.
That time was fast approaching when Jesus arrived in Bethany. He saw what pain and distress Death—that great enemy of mankind—had caused. And He tasted there the bitterness of His own impending death. He knew what it would do to another Mary, His mother, and how terribly His brothers the disciples would be shaken. “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” He wept. And that wasn’t the last time.
Jesus left Bethany without incident, though the Sanhedrin was actively plotting His death. Now, He no longer walked openly among the people, but went to stay north of Jerusalem near the wilderness (11:54). When the time of the Passover came that spring, the people in Jerusalem wondered if Jesus would come. Many hoped He would, so they could interact with and listen to the One who could even bring back the dead. Others probably hoped He would stay away, because they knew what their leaders wanted to do to Him.
Jesus did come. He first stopped in Bethany, where He shared a meal with His friends. When word about this got to Jerusalem, many came to see both Him and Lazarus (12:9). This was on a Saturday, with the Passover just six days away. The next day, Jesus prepared to go to Jerusalem. By now, everyone knew about His arrival. Great crowds went to meet Him with palm branches in hand, and singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!” On a carpet of cloaks and branches, Jesus rode forward.
As He looked up at the great city that sat proudly upon Mount Zion, we imagine what thoughts must have filled His mind. This was the city of David, the city of God’s holy presence in the temple. This was the city of many faithful patriarchs and prophets. But this city that He loved was about to turn against Him in the worst way. This is where He would die, right outside these walls. This is where all the forces of evil would converge upon Him, and He would endure the agonizing separation from His own heavenly Father. And just as He had not long before at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus again wept. “He wept over [the city], saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’”
He wept because He could see the future. He knew what was in store for Jerusalem. He described it just as though He was sitting there watching forty years later. He said, “[Y]our enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you.” This is what happened in the year 70. The Jews had rebelled against the oppressive rule of Roman governors. They had in their minds the glory days of the Maccabees, when Israel had won its independence. The LORD God would fight for them again! He would have mercy on His people!
But they didn’t see. They didn’t comprehend what they had done. The temple curtain had torn for a reason when Jesus died. The temple sacrifices should have ceased, since the Lamb of God had been slain for sin, once for all. Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “[Y]ou crucified and killed” Jesus the Messiah (Ac. 2:23). Many listened. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they believed and were baptized. But others rejected the Gospel. Led by men like the murderous Saul, they attacked the Christians, driving many of them out of Jerusalem. Those who remained evacuated the city when they saw trouble brewing with the Romans. By this time, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke had been written and circulated. The Christians knew what Jesus had said. They knew that destruction was coming upon Jerusalem. When the Romans laid siege to the city, the Christians had all safely relocated. The Lord had preserved them.
But the people within the city were not preserved. They ran out of food and water. They resorted to eating the leather of their sandals and worse. The dead multiplied. The siege lasted for months until the Romans finally breeched the walls. With swift violence, they cut down soldier and citizen alike. They set fire to homes, to the palace, and to the grand, beautiful temple. Everything burned. So many died. This destruction happened in August of the year 70, which is why this Gospel reading is appointed to be read in August.
Why did this happen to the people of Jerusalem? Through tears, Jesus said that this was “because you did not know the time of your visitation.” What was “the time of [their] visitation”? It was His visitation. It was the long-promised coming of the Messiah to save them. He wept because He loved them. He loved them to death—all the way to His death. Would that they had known “the things that make for peace”!
Do you know these things? Yes, you do. But it is easy to forget them. It is easy to get lazy in your faith, so that your confession comes from habit and not from the heart. It is easy to take God’s Word for granted and not regularly apply it to your life. It is easy to fall into sin like into a nice, warm bed, and get comfortable in it. It is easy to put off repentance, because “there will be plenty of time for that later.” But God does not say “later,” He does not say “tomorrow.” He says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Cor. 6:2). Now is the time to repent. Now is when the Holy Spirit brings absolution and salvation to the humble and contrite.
The Lord does not have to weep over you because He has saved you. He suffered your hell for you. He died your death for you. Think of Him on the cross, nailed there for you. See How Jesus Loves You! Will you reject His love? No! Without Jesus, there is no hope, there is no salvation. Without Jesus, there is only pain and destruction.
But with Jesus, there is comfort through every trial and every terror of life. When Jesus stood there weeping after the death of Lazarus, the Jews remarked, “See how he loved him!” (Jn. 11:36). Then He did something to show His love. He broke the grip of death with a word, and Lazarus arose. Jesus knows the terrible pain of death. He felt it Himself. But He conquered it, and He promises to awaken you and your loved ones with a word, just as He did Lazarus.
And when you weep for those who have rejected the faith like the inhabitants of Jerusalem—whether it be your children or your parents, your relatives or friends—remember how Jesus wept for sinners. He is not uncaring. He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33:11). He “desires all people to be saved” (1Tim. 2:4). The Lord hears your prayers. He does not forget His children, especially those who have already been brought to Him through Holy Baptism.
It is okay to weep for those who have fallen away, and for those who are now at rest. But weep with faith in your Savior and His promises. Take refuge in Him. Commit your cares to Him. Jesus will not forsake you. He redeemed you. He intercedes for you and all your loved ones at the right hand of God. He continues to fight the good fight for your souls. See How He Loves You! With a love that will never change.
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The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, the Merciful, dear fellow redeemed:
Suppose you woke up one day with a special power, but you did not know you had it. The special power is that everyone you meet immediately adopts your attitude. If you are happy, they are happy. If you are kind and gracious, they are kind and gracious. But if you are in a bad mood, they are in a bad mood. If you complain, they complain. If you act self-centered and rude, they act the same way. How much would you enjoy being around others? How pleasant would that be? I suppose it would depend on the day, wouldn’t it? This is a special power you probably are not interested in having.
At the same time, the way you communicate with others does have some effect on the way they communicate with you. If you greet someone warmly, you have a much better chance of a kind response than if you shove them out of your way. If you help and befriend others, they will be much more likely to want to help and befriend you. But “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Lk. 6:31), should not be driven by selfish motives. If a Christian gives primarily so that he might receive, how is that different from the way unbelievers operate?
In today’s text, Jesus talks about what it means to live a godly life. He does not say that our interactions with others should be based on how they treat us. He does not teach us to look out for ourselves above all else. He tells us to love instead of seeking revenge, and to forgive instead of storing up wrongs. Revealing to us the How and the Why, Jesus commands us to “Be Merciful, Even as Your Father Is Merciful.”
“Being merciful” could mean a lot of different things. If I am a parent, it could mean assigning no consequences for bad behavior. If I am a banker, it could mean cancelling all debts. If I run a service organization, it could mean not charging for services rendered. These things would be merciful. But God does not command me to act in these ways. On the contrary, He commands parents to discipline their children, and says that honest work deserves an honest wage.
Jesus speaks here about a godly mercy, which takes its cue from God the Father. This is how you are to be merciful: “even as your Father is merciful.” And how exactly is that? Psalm 103 provides a good summary of this mercy: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (vv. 8-10). What are the qualities of mercy we see here? The text says that the Lord is compassionate and loving. He does not have a quick temper, but is slow to anger. He is patient and kind. He does not dwell on the sins of mankind, but rather forgives sin.
This is also how the life of God’s children should look. We should have an attitude of compassion and love, looking for opportunities to improve the life of others. We should “turn the other cheek” when we are insulted and attacked. We should not jump to conclusions about people, but have patience with them and help them. We should not store up sins against others, but forgive and forget. That is godly mercy. And it is very hard to carry out.
In fact, by our own efforts, it is impossible. If this came naturally to us, Jesus would not have to talk about it. But He knows how the old Adam operates. The LORD was there at the ugly outbreak of sin. What did Adam do when confronted with his sin? He blamed his wife, and God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Eve played the blame game too. Your old Adam, your sinful nature, can come up with a million reasons why you should not be merciful – “She started it!” “It wasn’t my fault!” “He had it coming!” “They will just throw it back in my face!” What these are, are reasons why I should not have to do the right thing. They are justification for my bad behavior in view of the bad behavior of others.
But the wrongdoing of my neighbor is no excuse for my own wrongdoing. In a sermon on today’s text, Martin Luther said, “I’ll do what a good tree does: Though this year’s fruit is picked and enjoyed by good-for-nothing pickers, a year later it produces another crop of fruit, and doesn’t get upset at all. I will react the same way, be a good tree and bear good fruit; I will not repay one evil with another evil.” A little later he said that even if a prickly person—like a brier bush—scratches a Christian badly, yet “I refuse to become a brier bush because of your actions. I shall, instead, do nothing but good for you when you are in need” (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 2, Baker Books, 1996, p. 261). This is how a Christian is merciful even as God the Father is merciful.
But why must a Christian be merciful? Can’t we just leave the dispensing of mercy to God? Well for one thing, Jesus commands that we be merciful. That should be good enough for us. If He tells us to do something, we should do it. But there is another reason to be merciful. This comes from recognizing what we have received from God.
When the people listened to Jesus’ words, including the portion of today’s text, they might have thought He went too far. They would not have liked being called hypocrites for noticing specks in their brother’s eye, while logs were sticking out of their own eyes. But Jesus could say this without a hint of pride or self-righteousness. He was not a smooth-talking preacher like the rich and famous ones we see today, who display a façade of righteousness while carefully concealing their sins. Jesus had nothing to hide. He could talk about logs and specks in eyes, because He is the only one who could see them clearly. You can pull one over on your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your congregation. But you cannot pull one over on God.
God sees everything clearly. He sees the log in your eye. He sees your hypocritical behavior. He knows full well when you have been unmerciful, judgmental, unforgiving, and selfish. But the Lord does not measure back to you in wrath what you have produced in sin. He gives you a generous measure of His grace, “pressed down, shaken together, running over.” He puts it right in your lap through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments! Why would He do that? Because He is merciful.
He is, as He declared Himself to Moses, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7). This is how He looks upon you. This is why He sent Jesus to be your Substitute. He does not judge you by your sinful life, but by the holy life of Jesus. He does not condemn you for your transgressions, because He condemned Jesus in your place.
Like me, you can look back and recall many moments that you picked at the speck in another person’s eye while a log was protruding from yours. In tearing down your neighbors and making them feel pain, you felt a little bit better about yourself. You thought that if you could expose the sin of others, it might somehow make your sin seem less significant, less serious. But the guilt is still there. You know who you are and what you have done. You know the good things you have failed to do.
And yet God still has mercy upon you. He still loves you. All your sins and failures and unkindness He has transferred to His Son, who atoned for them all. Such mercy is so far above us, so strange to our way of thinking. Nothing in the world is like this mercy of God. It cannot be measured. One hymnwriter described God’s love as a “bottomless abyss.” He said, “O Love, Thou bottomless abyss, / My sins are swallowed up in thee! / Covered is my unrighteousness, / Nor spot of guilt remains on me, / While Jesus’ blood, through earth and skies / Mercy, free, boundless mercy! cries” (ELH #499, v. 3).
This other-worldly mercy is what Jesus calls His followers to have toward their neighbors – to love even when love is not returned, to forgive even when no remorse is shown, to be charitable even when help is not deserved. This is how we disciples will be like our Teacher, because this is how He is toward us. An attitude of mercy is not easy to have. We would rather have an attitude of selfishness and revenge. But then we shouldn’t be surprised when the same sinful attitude is reflected back at us. Jesus said, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
This is why we ask the Lord to help us “Be Merciful, Even as [Our] Father Is Merciful.” We want others to see in us the effect of God’s love and kindness. We want them to know that there is hope for the wicked and pardon for guilt. We want them to hear the comforting message that the Father’s mercy is big enough to cover even the greatest sinner, even sinners like you and me.
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Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who loves you and gave Himself for you (Gal. 2:20), dear fellow redeemed:
If you knew that you had only one day of your life on earth left, what would you do with it? Let’s assume you were in perfect health and could do anything you wanted. You might decide to spend that day with just your closest family and friends, or maybe you would invite everyone you know to a big party so all would have the chance to say good-bye. The day would certainly not be “business as usual.” It would be a day mixed with sadness and anticipation as you prepared to leave this world and enter another.
Jesus knew that His earthly end was near. He knew “that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (v. 1). He knew “that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God” (v. 3). He knew that one of His closest disciples would betray Him to the Jewish leaders (v. 11). He had knowledge of all these things because He was God. His pending death was not hidden from Him, or the awful manner in which He would die.
So what is it that Jesus did with this knowledge? How did He spend His final hours before His death? He did what any Jewish person would have been expected to do; He celebrated the Passover. He sat down with His disciples to a meal of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine (Ex. 12:8). This was to remember the LORD’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The LORD passed over the homes with the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts, but struck down the firstborn sons of every Egyptian man and beast.
As He reclined at table, Jesus revealed that this Passover meal was not like the ones His disciples had shared with Him in the past. He said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 22:15-16). He also used the occasion to teach a lesson about humility and sacrifice. He got up from the meal, removed His outer garments like a servant would, and began to wash the disciples’ dirty feet. This was not what they expected! Peter protested, saying that Jesus would never wash his feet. Jesus insisted, telling him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v. 8).
This is how Jesus spent His last moments—wiping the dirt and dust from between the disciples’ toes. Such a lowly activity is not what you and I would plan for our last day on earth. We might do some kind things for others, but whatever we did would be as much for self-fulfillment as sacrifice. The lesson Jesus teaches, is that we should look beyond ourselves, to consider others as much higher than we are. Jesus says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (v. 14). He showed love to His neighbors, including Judas, whom He knew was about to betray Him. Before the night was done, each of His disciples would forsake Him and flee. And yet, there He was, washing the feet of each one.
Today’s text explains why. “[H]aving loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (v. 1). Jesus loved with a perfect love those who would not love Him back. He knew how alone He would be in His suffering and death, but He loved them, and He never stopped loving them. They were among those He addressed from the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
He had also given them a tangible reminder of His love. They would not have His visible presence among them for much longer. So He gave them a new meal, a new testament to His love. At that final Passover meal, He took some of the unleavened bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” Then He took a cup of wine, gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, “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. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” He promised to give them His holy body and blood to eat and drink. This is how He would be with them always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).
It is how He continues to be with you too. Every time you come forward to the Communion rail, Jesus stoops down to cleanse you. He is not ashamed to associate with you or assume the lowly task. He patiently applies the cleansing agent you need to be washed from every sinful spot, stain, and blemish. You are already counted as pure and righteous before God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But your old sinful nature still clings to you and wants to lead you away from Jesus. This is why He gives you His body and blood. Through these means, He continues to apply the forgiveness He won and to strengthen your faith to withstand the temptations of devil and world.
But what if we fail more than we are faithful? What if we are dirtied more often than cleansed? How long will the Lord stay patient? How long will He forgive? He will go only as far to keep you as He did to redeem you. And how far was that? All the way to His death. That is how far He is willing to go for you. As He would say to His disciples later that Thursday evening, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus counts you and all sinners as His friends, which is why He laid down His life for you. You were in reality His enemy, but He counted you as a friend.
His love for you knows no bounds. He loved you even before you existed. He loved you as an embryo in your mother’s womb, as a baby, and on into each stage of your life. He loved you when you denied Him and set your mind on sinful promises and pleasures. He loved you when you doubted Him, blamed Him, cursed Him. His love for you has not changed. You are His. The way He expresses that love is to continue to speak His Word of grace and forgiveness to you. And to call you to dine at His blessed table where He through His servant offers you holy food and drink.
In this way, He also strengthens you to love one another. His example teaches you to look not for what you can get from others, but for what you can give. This is how you put His love on display to the world. You would not know love if He had not loved you. You would not be capable of godly love, if He did not produce it in you. All love that is holy, righteous, and good flows from Him, for He is love (1Jn. 4:16).
Whenever you sin and feel the guilt of an unkind or unloving attitude, return again and again to the ways that God’s love is dispensed—His Word and His Sacraments. Taste and see how far His love goes and trust His declaration of your forgiveness. Whether your death comes unexpectedly tomorrow or is a long way off in the future, you can find continuous comfort in the promise of Jesus to Love You to the End.
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The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 10:23-38
In Christ Jesus, sent by God the Father to gather His flock and lead it to the safe haven above, dear fellow redeemed:
Many of you here have learned the Ten Commandments along with Martin Luther’s explanation to each one. With the exception of the First Commandment, each explanation starts out the same way, “We should fear and love God, so that we….” Luther did this to emphasize that each Commandment points back to the first one, “You shall have no other gods,” which means that we should “Fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s explanation). Why should I honor my father and mother? Because God put those authorities over me. Why shouldn’t I harm someone? Because God gives life and wants it protected. Why shouldn’t I steal? Because God gives food and possessions even to the wicked. The reason that I speak well of others, help them keep what they have, honor marriage, and so on, is out of fear and love for God.
You can imagine what happens when people do not fear and love God. They abuse God’s name. They ignore His Word. They disrespect the authorities. They fail to defend life. They despise marriage. They take what is not theirs. They attack the reputation of others. They plot and scheme to get what is someone else’s. And what does all this gain for them? They may experience moments of empowerment and happiness, but their lives are full of emptiness and brokenness, and death moves closer and closer by the day. There is no hope for them apart from the true God. Only He can rescue from death. We Fear and Love Him Who Gives Us Eternal Life.
What does it mean to fear God? It means to have a healthy respect for who He is and what He is capable of. To say that fear and respect for God are lacking today is an understatement. People are quick to blame Him in bad times and quick to praise themselves when times are good. They treat the Bible like a toy that can be twisted, stretched, and spun however they like. They say things like, “The God I know would never criticize my lifestyle choices. The God I know loves and accepts me just the way I am.” But the god they know is a god of their own making and not the true God. Others deny that God even exists. They freely take His name in vain and blaspheme Him and His Word. What should God do about this?
When we are disrespected by someone, we are tempted to lash out against that person and to seek revenge. We might even resort to intimidation or physical harm. Surely the Lord would be just in doing the same. He is God Almighty, the Creator. He made all things and deserves the honor and praise of all. But it was not for revenge that God came down to earth in the flesh. Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:17). That is good news for us, because we are among those who have dishonored the true God by devoting ourselves to other gods.
This temptation to chase after false gods is ever-present in our lives. It might be the god of money, the god of worldly success and honor, the god of pleasure, the god of work, the god of family, the god of sport and leisure, the god of beauty, the god of political activism. These things are not sinful in and of themselves, but they become sinful when they take the place of our trust in God. In the Holy Gospel reading from Matthew 22, Jesus said that this is the great commandment of the Law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Where has your heart been focused – have you let it lead you into sin? How about your soul – would you sell it for the riches and glory of the world? And your mind – do you apply it toward good and holy pursuits or evil ones?
There is no part of you that is unstained by sin. You have joined the devil and the world in opposition to God every time you have done what God says you should not and failed to do what you should. Our Lord does not go with averages. Mostly good is not good enough. Scripture says that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (Jam. 2:10). So why is it that God still counts you as one of His children? Jesus explains, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
You have heard the voice of Jesus in His Word, and you believe what He says. You believe that there is only one God but three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You believe that you are a lost and condemned sinner, who has been purchased and won back by the blood of God’s Son. You believe these things because the Holy Spirit has brought you to faith through His Word. You believe that God chose you from eternity to receive His gifts and to live with Him forever in heaven. These are articles of faith. They cannot be understood by human reason or captured by human strength. If God did not give you this faith, you would not have it.
The Jews who surrounded Jesus in the temple courts did not have this faith. They saw the amazing works Jesus did. They heard His words. But they had a different Messiah in mind, one who would pat them on the back and praise them for their holy living. They trusted in the god of self. They denied the true God and wanted Jesus dead. Not much has changed. Today’s unbelievers want the same thing. This is because the old Adam is still the old Adam, the devil is still the devil, and the world is still the world. The enemies we face are the same enemies that the apostles and David and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob faced. But the God who defends us is the same God too, and He is almighty.
Psalm 2 says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs” (vv. 1-4). Psalm 115 describes the idols of men which are nothing but “the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat” (vv. 4-7). But the true God “is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (v. 3). There is no God like the LORD. He is “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deu. 10:17).
Despite God’s promise to protect us and keep us safe in His hands, we often let fear overcome us—and it isn’t the proper fear of God. We fear having to defend what we believe and being made fun of for it. We fear those who want Christians silenced or worse. We fear that we might miss out on really living if we deny ourselves and have to take up our cross. Such fears are sinful and are contrary to the First Commandment. We cannot serve two Lords or two Gods. We cannot live according to God’s will while indulging our sinful desires. If you do fear and love God, you must serve Him with every inch, every part of your being, body and soul.
If you fail to do this, do you know what God will do to you? Will He punish you? Disown you? No, He will forgive you. In fact, He already has. We have failed to do what God demands. We have not loved Him with our heart, mind, and soul, or our neighbor as ourselves. But Jesus did. He loved God and His neighbor with a perfect love. How could He love God? Does that mean He loved Himself? It means that He obeyed the will of His Father and carried out the work His Father gave Him to do, which was to die for sin. And how can we know that He perfectly loved His neighbors? He was willing to suffer and die even for His enemies, which includes you and me. St. Paul writes that “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8).
Jesus died for your sins, even your sins of denying Him, ignoring Him, and willingly doing what you should not have done. Jesus willingly suffered for these sins. They do not stick to you anymore. You are clean. And because you are clean in God’s sight, you are also in line to inherit eternal life. No other God can do this, because there is no other God. There is only one Creator, one Lord, one King. He will not lead you astray, and as long as you listen to His Word, He will keep you from being enticed by any wolf or endangered by any hireling. No one will snatch you, His precious lamb, out of His hand. So with the psalmist we say, “This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 56:9-11).
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