The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, whose promise to provide for us is far more powerful than our worries and troubles, dear fellow redeemed:
He says it five times!
- “Do not be anxious about your life.”
- “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
- “Why are you anxious about clothing?”
- “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
- “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
Jesus thinks we have an anxiousness problem, a worry problem, and Jesus is never wrong. He also identifies another problem: our little faith. Both of those go together—worry and a lack of faith. We worry because we do not believe God will do what He says, or at least we have doubts that He will provide for us in just the way and at just the time that we need it.
But what is it that causes our worry? What is our worry based on? Our worry is not based on anything we find in God’s Word. We don’t read about an arbitrary or a fickle God who sometimes chooses to bless His children and sometimes chooses to harm them. At times He does chasten and discipline us, because He wants to lead us to repentance and a stronger faith. But this is done out of love. He is always faithful. He does not change. So worry is not based on uncertainty about God’s will and work which are clearly revealed to us in His Word.
Worry is based on our own experience and the evidence we see around us in the world. We can think of times when we had more expenses than income, more responsibilities than we had the ability to meet. Maybe we were worried about paying our bills, and then more bills came. We didn’t know where the money would come from to cover even the essentials like food and utilities. Or one of our family members was sick, and we didn’t know if we could afford the medicine needed for healing.
We also look around us and see many people who go hungry, who can’t afford clothing, who have no place to go home to. If God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, why doesn’t He feed and clothe all people in need? And if doesn’t do this for the people who really need it, how can we be sure He will do this for us? So we worry. We give more weight to our experiences and doubts than to God’s promises.
When we allow worry to come in, we are taking matters that God wants to handle and holding those matters in our own hands. We keep the burden on ourselves of providing for our needs and fixing our own problems. Or we look for another provider, another god, whose promises seem more reliable.
This is how many people view the government. They trust the government to take care of all their needs. But as necessary as government is—and God has certainly ordained it for good order and for our protection—yet government is made up of sinners, who are often ready to take as much or more than they promise to give.
Our worries really come down to 1) having enough and 2) keeping what we have. A person just out of high school or a married couple with little children might especially worry about having enough. They do without new clothes, new cars, and a nice house. Retirement is a long way off—there’s lots of work to do! But older individuals whose work has been blessed and who are able to afford the finer things, now worry about having enough to retire on and having the good health and energy to enjoy it.
When we worry about the future like this, we behave like “the Gentiles.” Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now many of us are Gentiles in the sense of not having Jewish background. But Jesus is referring to the unbelieving Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Scriptures. That isn’t us, but we act like the unbelievers when we worry about having what we need.
Instead of worry, Jesus teaches us to do this: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He says that when we put our faith in God and His Word—little though our faith may be—, all the things we need for this earthly life will be provided to us. That’s quite a promise! It’s a promise that we have difficulty accepting.
We think that if we are going to prosper in this life, we have to make it happen. We have to outwork our co-workers, we have to come up with new solutions to get ourselves noticed by the “higher-ups.” We have to be in the right place at the right time. Then we will have a shot at our dreams. Then we can have a chance at the life we always wanted.
This is not a criticism of hard work. God wants every one of us to do our work to the best of our ability, whether we are in the classroom, in the workplace, in our homes, or at church. God never endorses laziness. In teaching us not to worry, Jesus is certainly not teaching us to sit back and wait for everything to drop in our lap. The apostle Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly than this: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10).
The difference is working for selfish gain or working for godly gain. We work for godly gain when we recognize that God is the one who gives each of us our unique abilities and strengths to employ in His service. We trust that He will bless our efforts as He sees fit. He might give more to some of His children and less to others, but all of it is a gift from His gracious hand. So it is not helpful to compare what we have with what others have, since God is the Giver, and “He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136:1).
And how do we know this is true beyond any doubt, that God really is so good and merciful? We know this because the Father who created and provides for all things also gave the greatest gift of all—His only-begotten Son to save us. When Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is referring to His own holy work.
God the Father sent Him to do for us what we could not accomplish, no matter how much we worried after it or worked for it. Jesus the Christ was born under the Law, so that He might redeem us, buy us back, by His own holy life. While we are anxious and doubtful about God’s care for us, He perfectly entrusted Himself to the Father’s will. He did not worry about tomorrow; He focused on God’s Word today.
Wherever we have failed in our work through our worry, our selfishness, and our laziness, Jesus fulfilled the holy Law through His faith, His love, and His perfect commitment to the work of saving us sinners. “His righteousness” is the righteousness we must seek if we will stand before God in heaven. And this is the righteousness we already have by faith in Jesus.
Yes, our faith is “little” and never as strong as it should be. But even a little faith has salvation in Christ. Our eternal future does not depend on how strong our faith is, but on how strong our Savior and Lord is. And He is strong! He is stronger than hunger and want, stronger than worry and fear, stronger than sin, death, and the devil.
He suffered when He went to the cross, but He was not worried. Just before He took His last breath, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). Then He was taken off the cross and closed up in the tomb, but He was not worried. Death was no match for Him, and He rose from the dead on the third day to prove it.
It is this Conqueror of sin and death who tells you: “Do not be anxious; do not worry.” If your needs and concerns are like ten enemies threatening you with pocket knives and pitchforks, God’s care is like an entire army right behind you outfitted with the best weapons and equipment. Worldly cares are scattered by the powerful promise of God’s care.
He will provide for you. If He needs to say it again and again, even every day, He will: “Do not be anxious. I have not forgotten about your needs. I know how to turn trials into blessings. I will come and help you. Have no fear!” In His care for you, God the Father already sent His Son to rescue you from eternal death. That must mean He will not forsake you in your times of need (Rom. 8:32).
And you know this to be true. You know that your cares and worries have never done anything for you. You know that God’s care for you has never failed. Even when you were anxious, even when you complained, He kept on loving you. And if He didn’t give you everything you wanted at the time, He gave you everything you needed.
God knows your needs even better than you do. He gives you His kingdom and His righteousness for your eternal life, and He gives all that you need for this body and life besides.
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 Jesus and the lilies from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who heals the sick and rescues the dying, so they might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, dear fellow redeemed:
It started with little sores that stuck around, reddish spots, and some skin numbness. He wished it would go away, he wanted to ignore it, but he couldn’t. He went to the priest to have it examined, and the priest confirmed his greatest fear—it was leprosy. He had to leave his job, leave his home, leave his family. The Book of Leviticus describes the protocol for lepers: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (13:45-46).
It was a hard reality, but there was no known cure. A person with leprosy had to stay away for the good of others. But he wasn’t completely alone. Lepers often formed their own communities. We see that in today’s reading, when ten lepers called to Jesus outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. We learn something else about this group of men. It was a mixture of both Jews and Samaritans. That probably wouldn’t have happened if this terrible disease hadn’t drawn them together.
In general, the Jews and the Samaritans interacted with each other as little as possible. They had long lists of reasons why the other group was inferior and not worth their time and attention. But “misery loves company,” and these men were miserable. They set aside the animosity they may have felt toward one another and stuck together. But they were still of course on the outside. They were not where they wanted to be. They were part of a community of death, a community of the dying.
And that’s exactly what the world is apart from Christ. It is full of people afflicted by the disease of sin, surrounded by death and facing death themselves. Leprosy is a helpful picture for thinking about how sin works in us. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther quotes Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” Then he says, “If St. Paul may speak this way about his flesh, we cannot assume to be better or more holy than him. But the fact that we do not feel our weakness just makes things worse. It is a sign that there is a leprous flesh in us that can’t feel anything. And yet, the leprosy rages and keeps spreading” (Part V, paras. 76-77).
Because of nerve damage, a leprous person does not always notice when he cuts himself or gets burned or injured. And we do not always notice when we are getting injured or burned by sin. The more we participate in what is unclean, the less we perceive the damage that is being done to us. We think that we can stay in control of the sin. We won’t let it overcome us. But when we can’t stop consuming what is destroying us, can’t stop doing what we should not do, we are not in control of sin; sin is in control of us.
If one of the lepers in today’s reading denied that he had leprosy, it wouldn’t have changed the fact. And “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jo. 1:8). It is important that we see ourselves among those lepers. By nature, we are sinful and unclean (ELH, pp. 41, 61). We are the outsiders. We are the ones standing at a distance, away from all that is good. We cannot change our situation; we cannot save ourselves.
But One has drawn near to our community of death, even coming to live among us, One who has the power to heal us of our sin and save us from death. This One is very different; His reputation precedes Him. He has not been overcome by sin, and when death tried to take Him down, He took down death! “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” we cry.
And why should He have mercy? He isn’t the reason for our troubles. He is not responsible for the state we are in, for the messes we have made in our sin. But He does have mercy. He had mercy upon Naaman, an Old Testament Gentile who was afflicted by leprosy, by having him wash seven times in the waters of the Jordan River until he was clean (2Ki. 5). And our Lord had mercy upon us by bringing us to the cleansing waters of Baptism, where He applied the healing medicine of His holy blood to each one of us.
St. Paul explains this beautifully in Ephesians 2. He writes, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11,12). We were on the outside, and we couldn’t get in. We were stuck in our sin and death. Paul continues, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). We were far off from salvation, but Jesus has brought us close to Him.
He accomplished this by perfectly keeping the Law of God, not just for the Israelite people but for all people. And then He went to the cross carrying the whole world’s sin and shed His holy blood to wash it all away. He poured His perfect righteousness and His cleansing blood over you through the waters of Baptism. That is how He transferred you from the community of death in the world to His holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. That is how He healed and cleansed you from the disease of sin that was killing you.
But many of the people He has done this for, whom He has joined to Himself in the waters of Baptism, continue on their way and forget what He has done. Like the nine lepers who were healed, they get caught up in “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luk. 8:14). They don’t continue to listen to His healing Word. They don’t remember to give Him thanks. So even though Jesus freed them from the community of death, they have returned to it again. They might feel like they are alive. They might think they are doing important things. But none of it can save them, and none of it will last apart from Christ.
This is what the devil tempts all of us to do. He wants us to walk away from the life we have in Jesus, to give all of that up so we can fit in with the world. We might even feel ashamed sometimes of our membership in the Christian Church. We don’t tell anyone about it. We carefully keep it hidden, so we can fit in with the people who seem to matter. We don’t want them to think we are strange. We don’t want to be left on the outside. We don’t want to be singled out and left all by ourselves.
These are natural thoughts to have. It is difficult to be a follower of Jesus in a hostile world. But even though you may feel like you have to face these difficulties alone, you are not alone. The Samaritan went against the majority and turned back to give thanks to Jesus. He didn’t have the company of his former friends anymore, but He wasn’t alone. Jesus was with him, and Jesus blessed him. “Rise and go your way,” He said; “your faith has made you well.” Or as the Greek word literally reads, “your faith has saved you.”
You are saved by faith in Jesus who conquered your sin and death, and shares with you His life. And you are not the only one who has received this life. Going back to Ephesians 2: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv. 19-21).
Look at how large your community is! You are a fellow citizen with all the saints, all the believers who have gone before you. You are a member of the household of God. You stand on the foundation built by the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus Himself is the cornerstone. You are part of an immense structure, a beautiful building, a holy temple in the Lord. You are most certainly not alone.
You are a member of the body of Christ. It is with Him that you belong. You will always find friendship, acceptance, and purpose in Him. He will not leave you by yourself. He visits you with His mercy in good times and bad, whether you are happy or sad, restful or anxious. He comes right to you through His Word and His Sacraments to cleanse you again with His holy blood and bless you with His promises.
Each time you receive these blessings, you praise Him and give thanks to Him, bowing down at His feet. And He looks upon you with love, and He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, who judges us not by what we accomplish in our faithfulness, but by what He has done for us in His mercy, dear fellow redeemed:
I have never heard a Christian say, “I wish my faith were weaker.” Every Christian wants to have a stronger faith, a faith that will stand firm in temptation, that will endure in difficult times, that will shine brightly through this life until we reach eternal life. Today’s reading gives us an example of a faith like this, a faith that Jesus Himself describes as “great.”
The people in Jesus’ day might have expected “great faith” to be found among the religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees. Or maybe they would have looked to the dedicated priests serving day and night in the temple. Or they might have thought that the twelve disciples hand-picked by Jesus were the best examples of faith.
None of these things was the case. Just before the events of today’s reading, Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides” (Mat. 15:14), indicating that they had no faith at all. At least twice He cleared the temple courts of those who were buying and selling there, showing that the priests were negligent in their duty. And several times He rebuked the disciples for their “little faith” (Mat. 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20), when they failed to put their trust in Him.
Jesus’ announcement of a great faith comes from a most unlikely source—a Gentile woman living in the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon. Now we live in a time when everyone wants to assert his or her “rights.” “I have the right to this” and “the right to that,” and “if I don’t get what I think I deserve, I’ll be taking names and calling my lawyer!” This is not how the Canaanite woman approached Jesus.
She did not come with a power play trying to impress or intimidate Him: “I know people in high places.” She did not try to convince Him why she was worthy of His help: “I do what I can for my neighbors. I give to charity. I’m a good person.” No, she came looking for mercy. Mercy does not depend on a person’s own position or good qualities. Mercy depends on the one who has the ability to help. Mercy can’t be taken; it has to be given.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” cried the woman; “my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” And she didn’t just say it once. The form of the Greek word indicates that she kept crying out. She wouldn’t stop. This makes sense since the disciples soon came to Jesus and were begging that He send her away. So much for Jesus taking time to rest—first the woman came crying to Him and now the disciples kept complaining too!
Why didn’t Jesus just help her? Well why should He? He was a Jew sent to save the people of Israel. He told His disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman didn’t deny this. She called Him the “Son of David.” She knew where He came from. But she did not believe that disqualified her from receiving His help. What made her so certain? What is it that she based her hope on?
The very words of Jesus that seemed to disqualify her were the words she held tightly to and wouldn’t let go. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” We don’t know how Jesus said this whether gently or harshly. But how many of us would stick around if He said this to us? The Canaanite woman didn’t budge, and she didn’t try to contradict Jesus. She completely accepted what He said: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Do you see what she did? She pinned her hopes to the very words of Jesus that seemed to shut her out. She agreed that bread should not be taken away from the children of Israel. Jesus was the “Son of David,” the King of the Jews. But if there was plenty of bread for the children, which she wholeheartedly believed, then certainly there must be some crumbs for the dogs. “Oh to be a dog that could eat those crumbs—what a privilege that would be!” she said. This is when Jesus declared, “great is your faith!” and granted her request, the healing of her daughter.
So what are some of the characteristics of this woman’s faith? She did not appeal to her own worthiness, but came pleading for mercy. She did not give up, but kept crying to Jesus for help. She did not take offense when Jesus seemed to turn His back on her. She held Him to His Word, even when it appeared the door was closed. We can learn a lot from her example. But the biggest lesson is not gained by looking at her. The biggest lesson is looking where she looked.
Her eyes were on Jesus the whole time, not on herself. And when she walked away from Him, she didn’t go away thinking how strong her faith was. She walked away thinking how merciful her Savior was. The greatest error we make in pursuing a strong faith is looking inside ourselves to make it happen. We can think to ourselves, “I need to be more patient, more trusting, more accepting of God’s will, more dedicated to His Word.” And those things are certainly true.
But our faith will never get stronger because of what we do. Faith gets stronger because of what God does. The Bible says, “faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17), which means passively receiving what God gives, not doing something to get 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.” In our Catechism we confess the truth that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed).
If you want a stronger faith, it’s not going to come because you try harder or stay more focused on doing what is right. A stronger faith comes when you stop looking inside yourself where you will only find worry, doubt, and pride. Faith increases when you forget yourself and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus only.
That is what we do at the Divine Service each week. We don’t come thinking about what we can do for God, or making appeals for His help because of how good we have been or how worthy we are. We come with the cry, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” We beg for His mercy because we know we can’t live without it.
We remember how easily we have been led to doubt God’s Word at the slightest challenge we have faced. We think of how impatient we have been in suffering, and how quickly we have given up on prayer. We know how ready we were to question God when He did not give us exactly what we wanted and on the timetable we expected it.
But even though the devil tries to convince us that Jesus has turned His back on us, that Jesus doesn’t care, this is nothing but a lie. Today’s reading shows us that when Jesus seems to be uninterested in our troubles, that is only how it seems. Jesus did not fail to help the woman who put her trust in Him, and neither will He fail you.
When you come to Him looking for mercy, He shows you His cross. That is where mercy shines most vividly. That is where God the Father proved His mercy toward you by punishing His innocent Son for your sins instead of you. Jesus willingly did that for you. He went to the cross, so that all your worries, doubts, and pride would be atoned for. He went there so that no matter where you come from and no matter what you have done, you would be presented holy and righteous before God the Father by faith in Him.
This same Savior now gives His own body as your food and His own blood as your drink. He has not forgotten about you. He has not forsaken you. You would gladly have the crumbs that fall from His table, but He freely gives Himself for you to eat and drink in abundance. It is His presence through His Word and Sacrament that strengthens your faith. It is His presence that brings you healing and eases your burdens. It is His presence that increases your love toward God and your neighbor.
You have nothing to offer God that isn’t already His. The world is His! You are His! But He has everything to give you. Keep your eyes on Him like a child waiting for his birthday present or a dog eagerly anticipating his treat. He has given His gifts to you before, and He promises to keep giving them. Like the Canaanite woman did, you can trust His promises. Even if everyone else rejects you and you feel totally alone, Jesus does not reject you. Your cries for mercy will not go unanswered. You will not leave empty-handed. Your faith in the Lord Jesus will not be disappointed.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
Thanksgiving Eve – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Romans 1:18-23
In Christ Jesus, whose work is foolishness to the world but is the greatest treasure to us who are saved, dear fellow redeemed:
Mother Nature has completed her work again this year. She brought warmer weather and needed rain in the springtime, so that seeds could take root and grow. She provided the heat of summer, so that plants and crops could flourish providing food for people and animals. And she caused the crops to mature in time for the abundant harvest that has just been taken in. What a good provider Mother Nature is!
Except that it was no mother who brought us these blessings. It was a Father, our Father who art in heaven. He is our Creator, our Provider, and our Protector, as we confessed earlier. The psalmist says about the LORD: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psa. 145:15-16). When we look at the order and beauty and fruitfulness of nature, it is obvious to us that there is a God, and that He is a good God. Today’s reading tells us that the “eternal power and divine nature” of God are clearly seen in what He has made.
But there are many who ignore what their reason and all their senses tell them. They deny that there is a God. They reject that any higher power designed and produced the things we can see. They say that all this came about by chance—a big explosion, billions of years, life forming out of dead objects, and then very complex organisms forming out of very simple ones.
The apostle Paul writes that “by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth.” He doesn’t say that they deny the truth because the evidence is not strong enough. They deny the truth about God, because they are opposed to God. They do not fear Him. They do not love Him. They do not trust Him. So then what is it that they fear, love, and trust? They fear, love, and trust the gods of their own making.
Isn’t that a predominant spirit in our country’s Thanksgiving celebrations? We are told how important it is to give thanks, and it certainly is important. But where should our thanks be directed? To whom should we give thanks? The default position for sinners is to give thanks to ourselves. We say how thankful we are for our homes and possessions, our families and friends, our good health and success—and we do it while patting ourselves on the back. “I have worked hard for these things. I have earned my position in life. I deserve everything I have.”
That is a sort of thanksgiving, but it is not godly thanksgiving. It is like the thanksgiving of the Pharisee in the temple who gave thanks that he was not like other sinners and that he had lived such a good life (Luk. 18:11-12). He kept the glory for himself instead of giving it to God. This is the sin that Paul identifies in today’s reading. He writes that “although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him.”
When we think about our own sin, most of the time we think about sins of commission, sins we have committed. We are sorry for the bad things we have done and said and thought. But Paul is pointing out a different kind of sin—sins of omission. These are sins resulting from not doing what we should have done. It is a sin when we don’t actively give God the glory for all the blessings that we have. It is a sin when we do not give Him thanks for the gifts He has given.
This shows us how great our sinfulness is. Just think of it: how many good things have you received from God that you took the credit for, or at least took for granted? How often have you prayed for His help and received it, but then failed to thank Him for it? We expect God to make everything go well for us and come out the way we want. And when He blesses us even beyond our expectation, we quickly forget how helpless and lost we were, and we go forward as though nothing significant has been done for us.
Paul writes that those who did not honor or give thanks to God “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Instead of worshipping God, they turned to the worship of created things. This might be the worship of our home and possessions, the worship of money, the worship of other people, the worship of our own impressive qualities or attractiveness.
But all of these things pass away. All of them fade, including ourselves. In a few weeks, we will hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah comparing all flesh to grass and to flowers in the field. These live and die by God’s command. “The grass withers, the flower fades,” says Isaiah, “but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). God’s Word stands when all our plans and hopes and health and riches pass away.
And it’s a good thing the Word stands, because the Word is what awakens us from our foolish thinking and the darkness of our hearts. God the Father sends the Holy Spirit through the Word to convict us of our sins, to show us how we have failed to live our lives to His glory. The Word of God’s Law shows us that we have not honored Him or thanked Him as He deserves.
But the Holy Spirit also shows us another truth. He teaches us how God sent down His only-begotten Son to address the world’s sin. In His love, God the Father sent His Son to be a Substitute for sinners. His perfect life would count for theirs, and His death would satisfy the debt of their sin. Not only did Jesus avoid all sins of commission, but He also feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. He perfectly honored, glorified, and thanked God for His abundant mercies.
So even though you have done many wrongs and failed to do many righteous things like thank God for His blessings, He does not charge these sins to your account. They were counted against Jesus, who paid the penalty for each one. By faith in Jesus, His perfect life is credited to you, including His perfect praise of His Father and His perfect thanksgiving.
This is why your thanksgiving today is not a chore. You don’t have to worry about making your thanksgiving good enough for God. Nothing you do could ever reach that height. But you can give your thanks and praise freely, cheerfully, and confidently, knowing that God sanctifies even your imperfect efforts. He Receives Your Thanksgiving with Great Joy and continues to pour His rich blessings upon you.
All that you have is a gift from Him. The glory belongs to Him—not to Mother Nature, not to you, or anyone else. The merciful Lord is the One who made you. He is the One who loved you and redeemed you from your sin and death. He is the One who provides for all your needs here and will bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom. “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1). Amen.
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The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, who clearly sees our shortcomings and sins but loves us anyway, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s a hot day, the perfect day for some ice cream. You step up to the counter and order one scoop of hard ice cream in a cone. The server gets a small scoop out of the bucket, sets it gently on top of the cone, and very slowly hands it over to you. Move too fast, and the ice cream might just tip off. “That’ll be $3!” You’re not impressed. Couldn’t they push some ice cream down in the cone and make the scoop a little bigger? Couldn’t they be a little more generous?
In today’s reading, Jesus talks about using a good measure in our dealings with others. He likens a generous measurement of grain in the marketplace—“pressed down, shaken together, running over”—to the generous way we should act toward others. Be stingy with love and kindness, and you will likely get the cold shoulder. Be generous and warm toward others, and the same will likely come back your way. Jesus said, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
But how exactly does that fit with what Jesus experienced during the time of His public work? No one ever gave a measure as generous as He did. He healed countless people of their demon-possession, diseases, and deformities, and He never charged them a dime. He patiently taught the demanding crowds and those who opposed Him. He was merciful and kind to young and old alike. He loved each and every one of His neighbors perfectly.
So shouldn’t He have received tremendous love and kindness in return? Shouldn’t the whole world have fallen down at His feet and praised this remarkable Man for His righteousness and humble service? Shouldn’t it have been obvious to them who He was—the holy Son of God in the flesh? Sometimes He was honored, by His disciples and by the crowds. But often His goodness and love were met with ugliness and hatred.
The people of His own town tried to throw Him off a cliff because He did not perform miracles for them like He had in other places. Many of the people who had followed Him left because He wasn’t interested in being the earthly king they wanted. The Jewish religious leaders accused Him of having a demon and working for the devil. They schemed to have Him arrested, condemned, and turned over to the Roman authorities to be put to death. The Roman soldiers beat Him, flogged Him, and mocked Him. He was nailed naked to a cross and made a spectacle to all who passed by.
If that is how people dealt with the best person who has ever lived, the one who never did anything wrong, it would seem there is no point in trying to be good. Why be kind to others if they’re just going to walk all over us? Why be generous if they will take advantage of our generosity? Why love if we’re just going to be hated? And Jesus knew this is what we would face. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Joh. 15:18,20).
But even though no one was ever mistreated like Jesus was mistreated, He still went willingly to the cross. He let the injustice come. He didn’t stop the punches, the spit, and the jeering. He didn’t make the nails turn to water or dust before they could be driven through His hands and feet. He let the nails come, and He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
That is not how the world operates. The world says, “If someone is mean to you, give it right back!” “If they don’t respect you, don’t give them the time of day!” “If a business doesn’t treat you right, post as many bad reviews as you can!” “If you don’t get what you think you are entitled to, hire a lawyer!” Everything is about me, what I deserve. Me first. That’s what the world teaches us.
But Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” He doesn’t teach us to think about what is most advantageous to us. He doesn’t teach us to treat others as they deserve. Jesus Teaches Us to See as He Does.
Now Jesus certainly sees everyone’s sin. There is no log in His eye obscuring His vision. There isn’t even a speck. He sees what is in our hearts and minds as clear as day. Nothing is hidden from His sight. But even though He can see the whole world’s sin, He doesn’t look upon us with anger in His eyes or judgment. He didn’t come to condemn us, damn us to hell. He came to save us.
When He looks upon you and me, He looks at us with eyes full of mercy and love. He knows how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. He knows how often we have failed in love for God and our neighbors. He knows how bitter we can get when others do not treat us like we feel we deserve. He knows how quickly and easily we regret an act of kindness that was not acknowledged or returned. He sees our stubborn pridefulness.
He turns His gaze toward us, seeing us in all our ugly sin, and He says, “I forgive all these transgressions. I do not condemn you. I shed My blood for you. I redeemed you, body and soul. My good name, My righteousness, My spotless record—all of it is yours.” We have not done anything to cause Jesus to look at us in this way. He looks at us this way because that is how He is. He is gracious and merciful.
And we know He is. We know it by the faith that God the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts. On our own, we would never believe that the Almighty God who demands perfection could ever look upon us with such kindness. But He does. He tells us so in His Word. His Word brought faith to our hearts, and His Word continues to strengthen our faith, so that it keeps bearing fruit.
This fruit is what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel. It is seeing our neighbor not as they are in their sin, but as God sees them, with eyes of mercy. It is refraining from judgment when our motive is not to warn them out of love but to condemn them out of spitefulness and self-righteousness. It is being generous in our attitude, in kindness, and in charity. It is doing to others as we would have them do to us.
The only way to have this perspective about others is to first acknowledge the vision impairment we have by nature. Jesus said that you can’t see clearly to remove a speck of sin from someone else’s eye unless you first recognize the log in your own eye. It’s a funny picture—trying to get close enough to examine someone’s eye but unable to because our eye-log keeps bumping into everything! That’s what our sinful pride and arrogance do; they obstruct our vision and make us difficult to be around.
We see as Jesus sees when we repent of our sins and recognize how much God has forgiven us. Then we are ready to humbly serve the sinners around us. Everyone was below Jesus, and yet He didn’t look at anyone that way. He turned everything upside down on its head. He taught His disciples: “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves…. I am among you as the one who serves” (Luk. 22:26,27). St. Paul wrote in one of his letters, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phi. 2:3).
That is the Christian life, a life lived by faith in Jesus. It is a blessed life, full of purpose and love. But what are we to do when Jesus’ words don’t seem to come true—“For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”? What if our good deeds and kind words are not rewarded with the same? What if we are attacked like Jesus was and face violent enemies who want to destroy us?
Even that does not negate Jesus’ words. Jesus does not promise that a rich measure of earthly fame and fortune will come back to us for our goodness. He does promise His never-ending grace. He does promise to give us rest from our weariness and trouble. He does promise His mercies and faithfulness which are new each morning. He does promise to take us soon from this world of trouble and sorrow to our eternal home with Him in heaven.
Whenever we do suffer here, we keep our eyes on Him. We see how He suffered—humbly, faithfully, committing everything to the care of His Father. Our job is not to obtain justice for ourselves in every area of our life on earth. We will probably never receive from others what we think is our “due.” We leave the balancing of these scales to God. We trust Him to give us our daily bread, to provide all that we need for this body and life.
His merciful care for us makes us free to have mercy and to forgive and to give with no expectation of repayment. We can dish out kindness and compassion toward others in large scoops—with generous measure. In all our dealings with others, we love and serve as Jesus loved and served. We will never be above Him, but by the continued work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, we can become more like Him.
And while we serve our neighbors imperfectly, Jesus will continue to serve us perfectly. He will keep pouring out His grace and forgiveness when we fail, and He will keep teaching us and helping us to see others as He does.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch, 1877)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, who gladly hears our prayers even when it seems He is not listening and mercifully responds to them all, dear fellow redeemed:
When Jesus heard about the gruesome death of John the Baptizer, He “withdrew… to a desolate place by himself” (Mat. 14:13). This was another example of the wickedness of the world, which would lead to Jesus’ own gory death. So He withdrew to pray and prepare for what was coming. But the people always found Jesus, and Jesus always dealt patiently and with compassion toward them. It was in that desolate place that Jesus fed the 5,000 men along with more women and children.
Instead of humbly thanking Jesus and trusting His will, the people plotted to “take him by force to make him king” (Joh. 6:15). So Jesus withdrew again—this time to a mountain by Himself. After crossing the Sea of Galilee, He went to Gennesaret where He healed more who were sick. There, many of the people rejected Him because they were offended by His teachings, and the Pharisees and scribes also ramped up their attacks against Him. Jesus again “withdrew,” and He journeyed northwest with His disciples to the district of Tyre and Sidon, a distance of about forty miles.
When they reached their destination, the evangelist Mark says that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (Mar. 7:24). He wanted to rest with His disciples, so they would be prepared for more difficult trials to come. But Jesus “could not be hidden” (v. 24). He could not find relief even in a Gentile region.
Immediately, a Canaanite woman came to Him and begged Him to heal her daughter who was “severely oppressed by a demon.” She didn’t ask meekly. It was nothing like, “I’m sorry to bother You, Lord. If it isn’t too much trouble, would you please help us?” No, she cried out, and she kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” And when Jesus didn’t answer her, she took her petition to the disciples. Maybe they would listen and speak to Jesus for her.
But the disciples were not in a generous mood. Her cries were so loud and so incessant, that the disciples did some begging of their own: “Please Jesus, send her away! We can’t bear this crying! Can’t you do something about her?” Now Jesus had noise coming from two places! Parents know what this is like, when they get pulled into a dispute between two of their kids who are each shouting and pointing their fingers at each other. The same thing can happen at work when a boss gets bombarded with multiple issues and complaints at the same time.
What a commotion it was! It was the exact opposite of the solitude and rest which Jesus had planned to have. But He didn’t plug His ears, and He didn’t slam the door. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It sounds like the door was closing. But that’s not how the woman took it. She knew who Jesus was. She had already called Him the “Son of David.” She knew He was a descendant from David’s line. She knew He was a Jew and not a Gentile. But she believed that even though He was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” that He still had the ability, He still had the power, to help Gentiles like her and her daughter.
Jesus didn’t say “no.” You and I might have heard “no” the whole time if we were in this woman’s shoes. We might have walked away in anger when Jesus ignored our request. But Jesus never said “no,” and the woman never heard “no.” Think again about kids when they are begging for something they want. Their parents’ silence doesn’t mean “no.” Even a statement that indicates “no” does not mean “no” if “no” isn’t said. To kids, a “we’ll see” is just about as good as a “yes.” That’s how eager they are to get what they ask for.
The woman was like that. She believed her request was so righteous, so just, that she expected a “yes” from Jesus. And she wasn’t going to stop until she got one. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” It was another put-down, right? Not to this woman. It was exactly the answer she was hoping for. The door only seemed to be open a crack, but it was open. “Yes, Lord!” she said. “You’re right! Throwing the children’s bread to the dogs is not at all proper. The dogs don’t deserve what the children get. But the dogs don’t go hungry. They happily lick up the crumbs that fall from the table!”
She believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of David. She knew He had healed many who were sick and demon-possessed. That’s what made her so bold to come to Him. If He had power and compassion to help the Jews, why shouldn’t He have power and compassion to help the Gentiles who trusted in Him? She did not believe in an ethnic God. That’s how the pagans operate. The Assyrians said their gods were better than the gods of other nations including the Israelites. The Greeks had their gods. The Romans had their gods.
We do not say that our God is better than the Muslims’ god or better than any other people’s god. We say that our God is the only God. The Triune God is the true God. “[I]s God the God of Jews only?” wrote the apostle Paul. “Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one” (Rom. 3:29-30). The one God rules over all the nations, all the peoples, no matter their race or language or ethnicity.
The woman believed that this Man standing before her was this God in the flesh. She knew she did not deserve His mercy. She did not try to convince Him of her worthiness. She trusted what the Scriptures said. She trusted what had been told her about Jesus. She would gladly be called a dog by Him and gladly receive the crumbs from His table, because crumbs from the living God are more than enough to satisfy a sinner’s hunger.
If we had been in the disciples’ shoes that day, we would have thought this woman was tremendously annoying. But hearing about her today, we are in awe. She exhibited the unflappable, unyielding faith in Jesus that we all wish we had. We might face a trial that is nowhere near as difficult as hers, but we quickly grow impatient and frustrated with God. “Aren’t You listening, God? Can’t You see that I am suffering here? I thought You said You loved me! Why won’t You fix this?” Instead of pestering God with prayers—which He urges us to do (Luk. 18:1-8)—we tuck our tail and crawl away.
We do not shine like that Canaanite woman because we do not trust God’s Word like she did. Our faith is weak. We quickly give up on prayer when God doesn’t send an answer as fast as we want. If we don’t get mercy right away, then we assume that mercy will not be coming. Instead of expecting a “yes” from God until He speaks a clear “no,” we expect the “no.”
And yet He continues to have mercy upon us. We do pray for His mercy each week in church and also in our daily lives. We recognize our need for God’s mercy in every part of our life. Apart from His mercy, we would have no daily bread. Apart from His mercy, we would not have the spiritual food that our souls need. But the Lord does have mercy.
God the Father saw us and the whole world covered in sin, and He still loved us. He mercifully sent His only Son to take on our flesh, so that He might “seek and… save the lost” (Luk. 19:10). Jesus came to be the Substitute and Sacrifice for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and for the Gentile dogs who eagerly wait for crumbs to fall from the Master’s table.
Jesus willingly served us sinners, enduring our weakness, our misbelief, our doubts. He never lost patience with us and slammed the door on us. He never turned His back on us and walked away. He came to us. He came to make our sin His sin, our suffering His suffering, our grief His grief. And in exchange for all of those things, He gave us His righteousness, His peace, His life.
Jesus had mercy upon you; He died to save your soul. And He still has mercy upon you. He hears you when you cry out to Him, even when it seems like His back is turned. He has the door open, even when it seems like it is closed. He has a “yes” on His lips, even when you expect a “no.”
Whenever you pray for the things that God has promised, you know what His answer will be. “Will You take care of me, Lord? Will You provide what I need? Will You relieve my burdens? Will You forgive my wrongs? Will You comfort and strengthen me?” His answer is “Yes!” You hear it all through the Divine Service—in the Absolution, the Creed, the Sermon, the Sacrament, the Benediction. “Yes, I forgive your sins. Yes, I love you. Yes, I will be merciful. Yes, I will help you. Yes, My dear child, I have more than crumbs for you. Here is a feast for you!”
His “yes” to what He has already promised makes you even bolder to pray for what He has not promised. You can say to yourself, “If He loves to give and give so generously, then I will pray for all of my daily needs, for all of my concerns, and I know that He will have mercy on me.” Your prayer does not depend on the result, on what God does with your request. Like the Canaanite woman, your prayer depends on God’s Word. What matters the most is knowing that your merciful Lord does hear your prayers and will answer them in the best way.
The apostle Paul writes that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]” (2Co. 1:20). Jesus came on a mercy mission. He said “yes” to our helpless cry for mercy. He said “yes” to our salvation. He still says “yes” when we beg Him for mercy. Jesus Loves to Say Yes.
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(picture from 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 8:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who welcomes you despite your unworthiness and mercifully gives you what you do not deserve, dear fellow redeemed:
Last week we heard how Jesus performed His first sign at the Wedding of Cana, where He revealed His glory, showing He is not only a man He is also the Son of God.
Today we hear how He continued to reveal His glory in large groups with varying conditions and backgrounds. These groups of people following Jesus were not only of Israel, the Jews; some were Gentiles, from other nations, possibly hearing and learning of Christ for the first time. Jesus was making known to everyone that He was the Messiah the deliverer of the whole world, not only from illness and disease but also from sin and death.
At this time in history a leper was by law not permitted to be in public, he must remain in colonies with other lepers. If those who did not have leprosy approached him, he was to announce, “unclean, unclean” so others would know not to come too close. If others touched him they too would become unclean not because they would catch the disease, but because according to Jewish ceremonial law touching someone unclean made you unclean. Yet, we see this very sick man still approach Jesus, most likely as the crowd scattered in all directions to avoid contact with him. It was a bold move to approach Jesus and it shows the man’s great need for help.
The Centurion wasn’t of Jewish decent, he was a Gentile, and therefore it was surprising he would ask Jesus to come and help him. (Acts 10:28) But we learn that the Jewish elders clearly thought this man deserved Jesus’ help. St. Luke sheds light on the centurion’s good standing in the community, he records, “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7: 3–5).
Despite what the Jewish elders thought of him, this centurion recognized his sin and unworthiness. When he learns that Jesus is indeed coming to help he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8a). These men demonstrated great humility as they went to Jesus for help.
The world defines worthiness differently than Jesus does. Typically a person must prove their worthiness before they can receive something in return. To get respect one needs to earn it. Someone might be considered worthy after getting recognition from their boss and receives a promotion as a result of it. People strive to be worthy hoping it will earn them good things in return. Often time’s favors are done for those deemed worthy providing them with extra incentives, gifts and other nice things.
You have probably heard the saying, “It’s not about what you know it’s who you know,” or even more accurately, “it’s who knows you.” This phrase is heard most often in the corporate or business world referring to how someone advances in his or her position. Think about that for a minute. What if people did know us, completely? What if people knew the things we’ve said or done in secret, the things only we know and regret terribly.
We may have a prominent job with great responsibility, we might be highly valued and liked in the community, but we still know our sins. God also knows what we have done in secret. (Matt 6:4) Even if we have saved face in the public eye we haven’t always thought purely or acted honorably. We know the truth of our unworthiness. If the people around us knew our every thought and deed would they still treat us with love and mercy or would they treat us as an outcast?
The world will always regard the worthy more valuable than the unworthy. There will never be a time when people perfectly welcome the unclean, the sick, the foreigner and the dying. But there is One who did. Jesus has always had compassion on the unworthy and He still does today. Our Lord sees our unworthiness but doesn’t equate it with worthlessness; we are greatly valued by Him. (Luke 12:7)
Jesus knows us entirely. He knows the exact number of hairs on our head. (Luke 12:7) He knows the wickedness we have done but He reacts differently to us. He doesn’t cast us out like a leper or lowly servant, instead in mercy He welcomes us. St. Titus writes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4–5) Jesus reaches out and welcomes us in mercy because of His great love for us.
St. Matthew writes, “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:3). This man did not do anything to earn Jesus’ mercy. He could not heal himself, but he trusted that Jesus could. “Lord if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2b). He was certain who Jesus was and knew the power that Jesus had.
The Lord wasn’t supposed to touch Him because it would have made Him unclean, but the opposite happened. Jesus deliberately reached out with His pure sinless flesh and touched this man, and completely removed his leprosy in front of everyone. Jesus did not become unclean; the man became clean!
The leper could have thought I’m hopeless and unworthy, why would anyone help me? The centurion could have thought, “I am a Gentile, why should this great teacher and miracle worker listen to me? But they heard the Word of God and their hearts were changed. They believed in Jesus. They trusted in the promises found in Christ their Savior, knowing that He is the only source for true healing and cleansing.
Like these faithful men, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we cling to God’s Word and to His promises. We also go to our Lord who promises to fix our ailments, heal our sicknesses and relieve our greatest problem, our sinfulness. No person or medicine can take away our sin only Jesus can. He is our comforter in sorrow and our strength when we are weak. He is our all-merciful Lord who suffered what we deserved to suffer. “By His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). He went through eternal death and hell to restore us. You and I rest securely in His hands, the hands He uses to cleanse our unclean hearts and the same precious hands that were outstretched and nailed to a wooden cross for all our sins.
These words recorded by St. Peter inform each of us that, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18b-19). The price to redeem you was the holy precious life of your Savior, who died and rose again after three days in the grave to make you righteous. The removal of your sins is what makes you worthy. He has mercifully granted this to you turning your unworthy heart into one worthy of the Lord’s eternal embrace and reunion with your loved ones in heaven.
You come before the Lord with a new heart trusting in Him above all else. (Ps. 51:10) You know that Jesus’ mercy never stops and He is constantly working in your life. He continues to work by His Word and His flesh. Christ’s Word is still spoken to you and in mercy He forgives your sin each new day. His flesh and blood still reach out and touch you in the Lord’s Supper. You kneel down before the Lord and He distributes to you the greatest medicine there is, the medicine of immortality. He provides you with His very flesh and blood bringing healing to your soul cleansing you from all sin.
Jesus welcomes you just as He did the man with leprosy and the centurion. He didn’t care about their status in the community or the public’s opinion of them. Jesus’ only cared about welcoming them into His kingdom and He only cares about welcoming you into His loving arms when you depart this world.
Your worthiness is dependent on someone far greater than yourself. It’s dependent on your Savior. Jesus made you worthy by His holy life and death. You are worthy of all that He gives you. Jesus’ arms are wide open; salvation is yours. He embraces you with His great love for all eternity. This is what true worthiness looks like!
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(picture from a portion of a Byzantine mosaic in Sicily)
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 2:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who cares about your problems no matter how large or small they may be, dear fellow redeemed:
We don’t know much about Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. We get the impression that he was a man of few words. The Gospels that speak about him never record him speaking. He seemed to be mostly in the background, quietly going about his work as a husband, father, and carpenter. Mary, on the other hand, was more outspoken. When she and Joseph finally located twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, she blurted out, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luk. 2:48).
After this, we are told that Jesus returned with His parents to Nazareth “and was submissive to them” (v. 51). That’s the last we hear about Jesus’ life until His public revealing at His Baptism. So what happened from age twelve to thirty? We assume that Jesus worked with Joseph and helped Mary around the house. He lived in a home like ours with all of its anxieties, challenges, and joys.
Jesus was without sin, but the same could not be said for His parents. He probably witnessed Joseph and Mary get irritated with each other, maybe even raise their voices and argue. He heard about Joseph’s problems at work and listened to His mother worry and wonder how she would get everything done that needed doing. I expect He was a calm voice in situations like these, someone whom His parents felt they could lean on.
Perhaps this is why Mary went to Jesus when she learned that the wine had run out at the wedding banquet. We don’t know what she expected Him to do, but she was obviously troubled by the situation. Wedding celebrations at this time could last as long as a week, and it would have reflected poorly on the bride and groom and their parents if food and drink ran out before the time was up.
Our wedding celebrations don’t last a week, but even today it wouldn’t look good if the hosts were unable to provide for their invited guests. So we work through the guest list, we add up the numbers, we calculate the costs. Planning a wedding and reception is a big deal! If the bride and groom don’t need everything to be perfect, their mothers probably do. Some take it to the extreme. That’s where we get “bridezillas” and maybe “momzillas” too.
But all the details that seem so important leading up to the day—the flowers, the decorations, the dresses and suits, the food and drink—those are not the most important thing. The wedding day is about God’s gift of marriage, the joining together of husband and wife—a one-flesh union intended to last until death parts them.
And yet we often find ourselves losing sight of the big picture. We get stuck in the details of daily life, the challenges and problems that cause worry and stress. It’s probably the case that few of our problems would seem like big problems to others. For every problem we might bring up about work or school or our home life, lots of others could tell us how they have it worse.
Even if our troubles are relatively small, they are still troubling to us. History would never remember the wine running out at a little wedding in a little town. But it mattered to Mary in the moment. In the moment, a shortage of wine seemed like a significant problem, a serious blemish on what was supposed to be a joyful occasion.
This is the reality of life in a fallen world. We are going to have trouble and difficulty. Nothing goes as perfectly as we want. We aren’t always treated well. Our friends and family don’t always understand us or give us the support we need. We get bullied at school. We get disrespected at work. We run out—out of money, out of energy, out of patience.
And the more we dwell on these problems, the larger they get in our eyes. The hurtful words cut deeper. The relationship issues intensify. The tension increases. The stress rises. It may have started out as something small—someone making an offhanded comment, laughing at our mistake, not giving credit where it is due, not remembering what should have been remembered. And we let these things make us bitter. We hold grudges. We give the silent treatment. It can happen in any relationship. It happens most often with the people most closely connected to us—husband, wife, parents, children, brothers, and sisters.
We know how to turn little problems into big problems through our worry and through our anger. We know how to ignore the big picture—that God loves us and promises to take care of us, and that He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to be kind and compassionate and forgiving toward each other. We know how to insist on fairness and justice, while ignoring grace and mercy. In short, we know how to make mountains out of molehills.
In the grand scheme of things, a shortage of wine at the wedding in Cana was a molehill problem. But what do we find? Jesus was on that molehill! He was at that little wedding in a little town, which no one would ever care about if He wasn’t there. But He was there. When Mary first conveyed the problem to Him, He didn’t seem to care about it. “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?” He asked, “My hour has not yet come.”
But Mary had faith in her Son. She told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” And Jesus decided to act. He had the servants fill six large jars with water and take some to the master of the feast. When he tasted it, it wasn’t water anymore—it was fine wine! The evangelist John tells us this was “the first of [Jesus’] signs,” and He “manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”
It is stunning that Jesus chose this setting and occasion for His first sign. Why not choose a more prominent place and a more public way to reveal His power? What we have in this account is a true comfort for us. It shows us that Jesus cares about the little things. He is aware of the everyday problems. By turning water into wine, He showed that He was concerned about the joy of the wedding couple, their parents, and their guests.
And in the bigger picture, we see Jesus demonstrating both respect for His mother and respect for marriage. He wanted to honor Mary, and He wanted to honor the occasion. He also wanted to begin to show His disciples who He was and to prepare them for when His “hour” would come three years later. At that time, He would die on the cross and rise again and ascend in glory to His place at the Father’s right hand.
For now, it was enough for them to know that Jesus had come from God and that He had come with mercy. He came with mercy for you. He came to relieve you of your burdens and bring calmness in your distresses. Sometimes you will hear people say, “God doesn’t have time to bother about my little problems.” On the contrary, that’s exactly what He loves to do. Jesus didn’t just come to save you from the big problems you face; He came to save you from the little ones too.
The big problems are our sinfulness, and death staring us right in the face. Jesus accepted our sins as though they were His own and carried them to the cross. We often talk about this in a big picture way—all our sins, all paid for on the cross. But let’s look at the details. Jesus paid for your sins of worrying that you will have enough money and enough time to do what you need to. He paid for your sins of mistreating those closest to you and not caring about their needs like you care about your own. He paid for your sins of failing to put the best construction on what someone has said or done and instead letting bitterness and anger grow in your heart toward them. Not only has He paid for your sins against others, He has also paid for their sins against you, each and every one.
If He did all that for you—even suffering your own hell and death, is He going to forget about your daily needs and ignore your momentary struggles? Jesus comes to you no matter what you are experiencing, no matter what troubles trouble you. He comes through His Word and His Sacraments to bring you forgiveness for the wiping away of your guilt, peace for your contentment, and strength for your endurance.
No problem of yours is too big for Jesus, and no problem is too small. He wants you to have joy in Him and His Word even though everything else seems to be going poorly. He invites you to bring your worries and concerns to Him just like Mary did. And He promises to give you what you need for today. Maybe for your good, the wine will need to run out as a way to teach you to trust in Him. And then He will make the wine overflow in your life as you see His many wonderful gifts toward you.
Jesus loves you with a magnificent, mountainous love. He knows your needs and well provides you. He Meets You wherever you are, whatever condition you are in—Even on the Molehills.
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(picture from a work by a 10th century monk)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who came to bring mercy and salvation to the afflicted and the hurting, for which He deserves eternal thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
When you are too busy to get something done, there are different ways you can address the problem. You can prioritize, and let the things drop that are less important. You can delegate the responsibility to someone else. Or you can hire somebody else to do the job. We do this when we hire lawnmowers and housecleaners, or when we go out for a meal at a restaurant.
What if you hired someone to do the spiritual things that you know you should do, but you just can’t seem to find the time for? You could hire someone to have devotions with your kids. You could hire someone to pray. You could hire someone to give thanks to God for your blessings. If you hired someone to be thankful on your behalf, what would that look like? As you start to think about the blessings God has given you personally, in your family, at home, at church, at work, in your community, you realize that giving thanks is hardly part-time work. It is ongoing, constant, something that should happen daily.
Even the world recognizes the importance of thankfulness. We hear people talk about how we should have an “attitude of gratitude” every day and not just once a year in November. But there should be more to our thankfulness than an attitude or a habit. An atheist can be thankful. A Muslim can be thankful. Our thankfulness as Christians is much different than theirs.
We see the difference in today’s Gospel reading. Ten men had leprosy. They had a skin disease that forced them to quarantine from others. They had to live outside the town in their own community. They could not continue in the jobs they had. They could not go near their families and friends. It was something like the stay-at-home orders of March 2020 but with no promise of things getting better. There was nothing for lepers except the constant presence of disease, the slow deterioration of their health, and the company of other sick and heartbroken people.
But at some point, they heard about a man named Jesus who had the power to heal. And then they learned that He was entering a village nearby. They stood at a distance and cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Those are serious words. We don’t cry out for mercy when we miss a turn or run out of milk or butter. We cry out for mercy when we face something difficult that we don’t have the power to fix.
You may have cried out for mercy when a new virus made its way around the world, or when you were seriously ill at home. You may have cried out for mercy when someone you love was diagnosed with heart failure or cancer, or when someone close to you died. You may have cried out for mercy when things were not going well at home, at work, or at school.
Jesus hears those cries, just as He heard the cry of those lepers. He knows the anguish behind the cry, and He also sees the faith. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He is merciful. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He has the power and the desire to help. He is merciful, and He does want to help.
The ten lepers believed this—at least at that time. And when Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, they went. As they were going, they realized that a miracle had happened. They had no more leprosy—their skin was healed! You heard what happened next. Only one of the ten came back to thank Jesus; the rest were too busy, too focused on their own plans. The one who came back would have seemed the least likely to return. He was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans and Jews generally avoided each other. But this Samaritan fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.
I imagine the other men were thankful too. How could they not be? They were thankful to be cleansed. They were thankful that they would be able to see their families again, thankful to return to normal life. But here is where we see the difference between the thankfulness of believers and the thankfulness of everyone else. The thankfulness of the nine men was a thankfulness for. The thankfulness of the one was especially a thankfulness to.
The nine were thankful for healing and for all the good things they were about to enjoy. The Samaritan was thankful for those things also, but most of all he was thankful to the merciful Lord. Jesus Himself made the distinction. He said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” All ten were thankful, but only one was thankful to God.
You can see how mere thankfulness is not acceptable before God. God is the one who has mercy. He is the Giver. So we should give thanks to Him. The Samaritan did this. He had cried out for mercy, and Jesus had answered. The man had not healed himself—Jesus had. Here was the evidence of the man’s faith. He was not too busy to give thanks. He didn’t have something more important to do. He gave all praise and glory to the Lord for his miraculous healing. And Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—or as it can also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”
We want to learn to be thankful like this Samaritan, thankful to the Lord at all times. The apostle Paul often talks about the practice of Christian thankfulness. Paul had a lot of things to complain about. His was not a carefree life. But in his letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Th. 5:16-18). And in his letter to the Ephesians he said, “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
Both passages tell us why we can be thankful always, no matter what we are experiencing. We are thankful because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, willingly came into this world of trouble and death. He did not shrink back from sinners, like people would from a group of lepers. He took our sins to Himself and provided His holy blood as the antidote for our spiritual disease. His blood cleanses us from every sin (1Jo. 1:7). There is nothing that now keeps us from the eternal gifts God has stored up for us in heaven.
But maybe your back hurts. You don’t have the energy you used to. You wish you could lose a few pounds. You are not as secure financially as you want to be. You don’t get the support at work or at home that you need. We can always identify things we are not thankful for. It is very easy to make that list. But there is far more good in our lives than evil. The Lord is merciful toward us.
He has mercy upon us even when we don’t respond to it like we should. Jesus knew that nine of the lepers would not return to give thanks, and He still healed them. In the same way, He knows that we will get distracted by the things of this life. We will think we are too busy to hear His Word, pray to Him, and thank Him for His gifts. And yet His mercy endures.
In church each week, we cry out for this mercy. We acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. We admit that we are unable to fix all the wrongs we have done and save ourselves. From our own leper colony, from this congregation of sinners, we cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And He does. He comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. He returns us to the cleansing waters of Baptism through His absolution. He brings healing to our body and soul through His holy body and blood. And then He sends us home with His blessing, saying to us as He did to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—“your faith has saved you.”
Faith trusts what Jesus promises in His Word even when we are experiencing great problems and troubles. Was Jesus merciful the day before the lepers cried out to Him? Yes, He was merciful even while they remained in their leprosy. Our pains and difficulties in this life are not signs of God’s disinterest or His lack of mercy toward us. He often uses these things for our good, to draw us closer to Him.
Think about your own life. When is it that you are the most thankful? Probably when you no longer have what you used to take for granted. You are not so thankful for good health until you are sick. You are not so thankful for a job until you are let go. You are not so thankful for your possessions until they are taken from you.
We give thanks in good times and bad because we see how our merciful Lord keeps bringing us blessings. We learn that His mercy toward us is constant. His love toward us does not change. He is always ready to help and strengthen us. He is always ready to forgive us even though we have failed so many times to be thankful.
His mercy does not depend on our thankfulness. But it does make Him glad when we, like the Samaritan, bring our thanks to Him for all the wonderful works He does in our lives. And so we join the psalmist in saying, “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1).
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(picture from “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who taught us the way of compassion and mercy by giving Himself fully for the needs of His neighbors, dear fellow redeemed:
In the summertime, parents can be a little more lenient with their kids. With no bus to catch in the morning, they might let the kids sleep in a bit. With no homework to do or school deadlines to meet, kids have more flexibility with how they spend their time. But school is back in session. That means it’s time to buckle down again.
When school starts, parents become less accepting of non-committal answers. When they see their kids lounging around and wasting time, and they ask, “Is your homework finished?” they are not looking for an “almost,” or “it won’t take me long.” What they want to know is whether the homework is “done” or “not done.” When it comes to homework, those are the only two categories!
They are the same two categories that apply to God’s holy Law. God’s Law is either done or not done. Today’s reading tells us about an expert in the Law who seemed to recognize that his keeping of the Law was not done. He asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Then at Jesus’ prompting, he summarized the Ten Commandments: You shall love God perfectly and your neighbor as yourself. “You have answered correctly,” said Jesus, “do this, and you will live.”
Then we learn that the expert in the Law thought he actually had done what was required. He thought he was holy according to God’s Commandments. But he wasn’t. He might have understood the Law intellectually, but he did not know the Law spiritually. He might have appeared to keep the Law outwardly, but he had not kept it in his heart.
How we read the Law is very important. We don’t want to misunderstand it, and we don’t want to misapply it. Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer shows how easily both things can happen. You and I have something in common with this lawyer—we know what God demands in His Law. We know the Ten Commandments. There is another thing we have in common with this man. We think we have done a fair job of keeping the Commandments. We know we have not kept them perfectly, but compared to a lot of people around us, we think we have done pretty well at living the way God wants.
But this comparison with others is where we get into trouble. It shows a misunderstanding of the Law. When we think we have done better than others, we have actually set aside the Law. Remember that God’s Law is either done or not done. If we haven’t kept it fully, then there’s no use pointing out how we are better than others. That’s like boasting about a second-to-last finish in a field of a hundred competitors. And if we misunderstand our own failure to keep the Law, we will certainly misapply it. We will read it as though it condemns the sins of others while letting us off the hook.
The Law doesn’t let anyone off the hook. St. Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly in his letter to the Romans: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). He wrote the same thing in his letter to the Galatians: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” (Gal. 3:10-11).
The primary job of the Law is to smash the pride that is constantly rearing its ugly head inside us. The Law functions kind of like those robbers lurking in the shadows. We walk along, thinking we’ve got it together. We find it easy to justify our sinful actions, words, and thoughts, and we are quick to judge the weaknesses of others. We are focused on ourselves and not on the needs of those around us.
And BOOM! the Law hits us. We often don’t see it coming. Suddenly our sin catches up to us, and we realize how flawed we really are. We see how lacking we are in love. We see how we have been living for ourselves and not for God. The Law knocks us flat on our backs and strips away everything we place our trust in in this life—our works, our accomplishments, our status. Nothing is left but our sins. The Law is ruthless. It shows no mercy. It gives no hope.
Suppose the Law had done its work, and you shared your guilt with a friend, laying bare all the ugly thoughts and intentions of your sinful heart. And your well-meaning friend tries to encourage you, “You are being too hard on yourself! You are a wonderful, good, kind person! You are one of the best!” That’s like a priest or a Levite seeing the man half-dead and passing by on the other side because “he’s going to be just fine!” Fluffy compliments or rosy sentiments are no help. When your eyes are open to your sin, when the Law shows you how you really are, you don’t need someone telling you that everything is okay.
What you need is a Good Samaritan. You need someone to bind up your wounds, carry you to safety, and nurse you back to health. That’s what Jesus does. He sees you in your sin, broken by the Law, and He has compassion on you. He knows what bad shape you and all sinners are in. That’s why He took on your flesh. He came “to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5). He came to do what you are incapable of doing. He came to fulfill the Law.
The Law didn’t catch Him by surprise. It didn’t knock Him down. The Law is His. God established the Law as a reflection of His perfect nature. He gave it to show what it means to be right with Him. And before the first man and woman sinned, they were right with Him. Their lives perfectly conformed to His holy will. But their sin ruined that Paradise. Now nothing they tried to do was perfect. Everything was tainted by sin.
Jesus came to reverse and repair all that. He lived His life in total conformity to the Law. He was tempted in every way just as we are, but He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and He perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived that life of perfect love for you. He kept the Law completely for you. His holy life is yours—credited to you—by faith.
And He went to the cross to make atonement for your all sins against the holy Law. Every infraction, large and small, was counted against Him on the cross. All your arrogance, all your pride, your judgmental attitude toward others, your denial of your own sinfulness, your failure to help a neighbor in need—Jesus accepted the full wrath of God for all of it. The blood He shed cleanses you from every sin. Each and every sin is forgiven.
But you might not always feel like your sins are forgiven. You might still feel guilty for the things you have done and said and the terrible things you have imagined. This is why Jesus gives His Word and Sacraments. These are the means for your healing and strength. Through His Word of Absolution, Jesus returns you to the cleansing waters of your Baptism, where the wounds of your sins are washed clean. And through the food and drink of His Supper, He applies the medicine of His body and blood to bring you spiritual healing and strength.
Jesus sees how you struggle. He knows the countless ways you have fallen short of the Commandments. But He does not leave you for dead on the treacherous highway of this life. He has compassion on you. He has compassion because His love is not fickle like ours is. His love does not change or diminish. His love is perfect.
That perfect love counts as your keeping of the holy Law. All that He is and all that He accomplished is yours by faith. By faith in Him, the Law is done for you. It is fulfilled. That’s what Romans 10:4 tells us: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” We no longer have the pressure of trying to be righteous through our works. Perfect righteousness is ours by faith.
But while the Law is done for us before God, there is plenty for us to do for our neighbors. There are so many around us beaten and broken by their own sin and the sin of others. There are so many crushed by the Law and feeling despair. Our neighbors don’t need priests and Levites who turn up their noses at the thought of being inconvenienced or getting their hands dirty. Our neighbors don’t need Christians who talk a good game but hardly lift a finger to help.
Our neighbors need compassion. They need mercy. We give them these things when we lend a sympathetic ear or a helping hand. And we also share with them what they need the most. We give them Jesus—His healing, His promise, His grace through the message of the Gospel. Jesus tells us to go and do this. The Good Samaritan is a picture for us, not of how we can fulfill the Law and get ourselves to heaven by our works. The Good Samaritan is a picture of Jesus’ love which He has shown to us, and which He gives us the opportunity and the privilege to show to others.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)