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).
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 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.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, who calls us to ignore the distractions of the world and listen to His careful instruction and His comforting message of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
Teachers have a lot of authority. We give them our children and ask them to help our children become well-rounded and productive members of society. Some teachers do a better job than others. We can all think of teachers who were not very qualified for that role. Maybe they had the intelligence but not the ability to convey it, or they had some ability but no depth of knowledge. Or maybe they were lazy, or they behaved inappropriately.
On the other hand, we can think of teachers we appreciated back then and still do. Maybe they expected a lot from us, but they gave us the tools to do better and do more. They helped open up subjects and topics that we never thought would interest us. They helped us understand the past and the present, so we had a clearer view of the future. We regret now that we didn’t listen to them more carefully. We would go back to their classroom if we could.
But even the best teachers may not get through to all their students. Some students are unwilling to pay attention, unwilling to learn. This happened in the case of Jesus and those who heard His teaching. We are used to Jesus being called “Savior” or “Lord,” but another common title for Him is “Teacher.” Jesus was regularly called “Teacher” by His own followers (Mar. 4:38, 9:38, 13:1) and by those who opposed Him (Luk. 10:25, 11:45, 20:21), and He even applied the title to Himself (Luk. 22:11, Joh. 13:13-14).
His teaching was always interesting and always true. But it was not always listened to. Some students think they know more than their teachers—they think they have nothing to learn. Some students think they know better than their teachers—they think their teachers are ignorant or misinformed. Even when these things are true, God tells us in the Fourth Commandment to be respectful toward our teachers as those who are in authority over us.
The scribes and Pharisees did not respect Jesus. They could not find any flaws in His character, but they identified numerous flaws in His teaching. He described a heavenly kingdom whose inhabitants were there by faith. The scribes and Pharisees believed that eternal life in God’s kingdom could only be obtained through each person’s works. They had departed from the teaching of the Scriptures. They were in error, but they blamed Jesus.
Blaming Jesus was easier than facing their own flaws, their own sins. Jesus was not teaching falsely; they just didn’t want to admit that He was right. None of us likes to admit when we are wrong. None of us likes to have our words or actions challenged. When we are accused, we are quick to fling accusations back at our opponent: “Who are you to judge me?! You’ve done much worse! Remember when you did this and said this and this and this?!”
This finger pointing is not very impressive. You see politicians do it and professional athletes and almost everyone else in the public eye. Mud-slinging doesn’t make anyone look better. It just makes everyone dirtier. Our Teacher Jesus urges a different approach: “Be merciful,” He says, “judge not… condemn not… forgive… give.” He didn’t borrow a page from His opponents’ playbook. He used God’s playbook.
We should be merciful toward others, He says, because God the Father is merciful toward us. We see a picture of His mercy in the parable of the prodigal son. The disrespectful, immoral son wasted his father’s inheritance, and yet his father still welcomed him home with open arms (Luk. 15:11-24). The Father likewise welcomes us with open arms even though we have sinned against Him and squandered His gifts. He wants us to extend the same kind of mercy to people who have wronged us.
“Judge not… condemn not”—even those who are not Jesus’ disciples love to cite these words. They think it means we should never criticize the choices that others make or warn them about their sin. If that were true, then Jesus would have contradicted Himself when He said, “Beware of false prophets,” who will be recognized “by their fruits” (Mat. 7:15-16). This obviously means to make a judgment about how someone teaches and lives.
When Jesus says “judge not… condemn not,” He is telling us first to take a hard look at ourselves. We should not in our self-righteousness be quick to judge others while at the same time minimizing our own sins. That’s like trying to get a speck out of someone’s eye when a log is sticking out of our own. If we are going to be in a position to correct others, which it is proper for us to do, we must first be willing to take correction ourselves.
“[F]orgive, and you will be forgiven,” said Jesus; “give, and it will be given to you.” These are the things that Jesus expects of His disciples—a merciful heart like the mercy of God the Father, and a humble and forgiving spirit like Jesus displayed. He endured great injustices from His enemies and was afflicted by them with great pain. Still He prayed to His Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
How does Jesus’ teaching of humility, forgiveness, and sacrifice sound to you? Much different than “survival of the fittest,” or “what goes around comes around,” or “do what feels right in your heart.” His teaching here is supremely challenging. It exposes our failure to be what God has created us to be and called us to be. We are supposed to be like our Teacher. Isn’t that the goal that every student has of a favorite teacher?
But we are not exactly like Jesus. We are not merciful like He is merciful. We are not patient and kind like He is. We do not forgive and give like He does. He is perfect, and we are not. And yet He still desires to teach us. He hasn’t kicked us out of His classroom. He continues to invite us to listen to Him and learn from Him. “Come to me,” He says. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:28,29).
Even though we haven’t been the best students, even though we have often failed to take His words to heart, Jesus still speaks gently to us. He speaks to us in the way He wants us to speak to others. He deals mercifully with us when we really deserve His wrath. He does not judge us and condemn us to hell even though we have broken the holy law. He forgives all our sins which are more than we could ever number. He gives us His eternal riches in such full measure that we overflow with His blessings.
This is what Jesus teaches in the saving Gospel. Does the Teacher Have Your Attention? Or do you think you have already learned everything there is to learn from Him? Have you gotten bored hearing about the love that God has for you and the work that Jesus did to save you? Maybe you think it is enough to simply know the facts of the Bible, and once you know them, you don’t need to hear them again and again.
But the Gospel message of what Jesus has done for us is not simply factual, it is also powerful. St. Paul writes that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Through the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are brought more and more in line with His holy life. The Gospel moves us. It changes us. It shapes us students so that we become more and more like our Teacher.
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We are not above Jesus and never could be. We will always be His disciples. But through His Word, He trains us to be more and do more in His name. By teaching us the mercy that God the Father has toward us, He moves us to “be merciful” to others. By reminding us how He let Himself be judged and condemned in our place to save us, He leads us to suffer and to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of our neighbor. By forgiving us all our sins and giving generously to us, He moves us to be kind and good to those who sin against us.
This training in righteousness through His Word continues throughout our life (2Ti. 3:16). There will never be a point in this life that we will say we are “fully trained,” that we are exactly “like Jesus.” But we can certainly grow and become more mature as disciples of Jesus. God the Holy Spirit through the message of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness refines us and shapes us to be like Jesus is. He sanctifies us through this Word. He takes what belongs to Jesus—His holiness, forgiveness, life—and He brings it to us. As we listen to what our great Teacher and Savior has done for us, we learn and grow more and more into what He calls us to be and do.
Apart from Him, we wouldn’t understand mercy and humility and forgiveness. But through faith in Him, we see what He has done for us, and we trust what He is able to do through us. The power is not in us to accomplish the tasks that Jesus has set out for us. But the power is in His Word, in His teaching, and He imparts that power to us.
Through His Word, we are brought closer and closer to the culmination of our training when we will finally meet our Teacher face to face on the last day. Then no speck or log will impede our sight. No sin will trouble and divide us any longer. We will be “fully trained”—perfectly completed. Then, as St. Paul writes, we will “be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1Jo. 3:2).
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 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 promises to show mercy and grace to all who ask, seek, and knock in His name (Mat. 7:7), dear fellow redeemed:
What do you value more: someone who is a good listener, or someone who is a good talker? Good talkers have their place, but we especially appreciate good listeners. It is important to us that we are heard. We all have needs that we want others to know about. We all have opinions. We all have advice or encouragement to share with those we care about. If no one listens to us anymore, that’s when we feel very alone.
I imagine the Canaanite woman in today’s text felt very alone. Her daughter was “severely oppressed by a demon.” We don’t know what the demon did to this girl. In a different case recorded in the Bible, a demon possessing a boy tried to get him to throw himself into fire or water to destroy him (Mar. 9:22). Whatever the demon did to this little girl, it was a torment not only to her but to her mother also.
What could the mother do? She would do anything to make her daughter better. At first her neighbors sympathized with her. Maybe some doctors or spiritualists tried to help. But when the girl could not be cured, they grew tired of listening to her mother. “All she does is complain! What are we supposed to do? She’s driving us crazy!” So they stopped listening. They avoided her. The serious problem had not gone away, but now there was no one to offer comfort or help.
Perhaps you have felt like this woman before. Something was troubling you greatly, but either you didn’t feel like you could share it with others, or when you tried to share it you were ignored. So you carried it by yourself, and the weight only became bigger and heavier. Or maybe you have been on the other side of things, and as much as you wanted to help someone, you couldn’t make their problems go away. Their constant worrying and complaining overwhelmed you to the point that you decided to put some distance between yourself and that person.
Probably you have been in both of these camps—you have felt alone with no one seeming to understand or care, and you have avoided someone because you felt incapable of helping anymore. On the one hand, you learned that you don’t have perfect friends, and on the other, you realized that you are not a perfect friend.
But while her friends and neighbors may have closed their ears to this woman, her ears were not closed. At some point, word traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon about a Jewish man who could heal. Tyre and Sidon were coastal cities on the Mediterranean Sea about 45 miles north of Nazareth where Jesus was raised. These coastal cities were beyond the borders of Jewish territory. So they were inhabited by Gentiles, people who did not have formal training in the Scriptures but who were undoubtedly aware of the laws and customs of the Jewish people.
Not only did word reach the Canaanite woman about a Jewish man who could heal, but she also heard some say that this man was the Messiah, the heir to King David’s throne, the long-promised Savior. This is how she referred to Jesus when she located Him. She came to Him crying out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
But Jesus had come to this place near Tyre and Sidon to rest. He had recently fed the crowd of 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fish. He had been clashing with the Pharisees and scribes. And now He “withdrew” to Gentile territory. He and His disciples needed time away. The evangelist Mark tells us that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (7:24). But then here comes this hysterical Canaanite woman begging Him to heal her daughter.
Jesus acted like He couldn’t hear her. “He did not answer her a word.” That could have been enough for the woman. When her cries went unanswered, she might have had some harsh words for Jesus about not being anything like the man she had heard about. She could have stomped off in disgust. But she persisted. The disciples heard her loud and clear. Her cries were so incessant that they now begged Jesus: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
Why wouldn’t Jesus listen to her and help her? He told His disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He said the same thing to the woman: “It is not right to take the children’s bread—the saving Gospel for the Jews—and throw it to the dogs—the Gentile peoples.” The woman was listening; she was listening very carefully. The “dog” comment might have turned many people away. But the woman replied, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Jesus commended her not only for her dogged determination to be heard, but also because her faith had a foundation. It was not a faith-of-the-moment, or a faith of convenience if it could possibly help her daughter. Her faith was worked in her by God through His Word. She believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and she believed that if He had come to save the Jews, then He was able to save the Gentiles too. If God had “bread” for the Jews, surely He had some crumbs for the believing Gentiles.
This woman understood something that would not become clear to Jesus’ disciples until after Pentecost, that Jesus was the Savior not just of the Jews but of the whole world. The disciples’ ignorance explains why they showed no compassion toward this woman. To them she was no more than an annoying Canaanite. Not long before this, Jesus had chided “rock-solid” Peter, whose doubts caused him to sink like a stone in the water: “O you of little faith,” said Jesus, “why did you doubt?” (Mat. 14:31). But this Canaanite woman did not doubt, even when it seemed like Jesus wanted nothing to do with her. And Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Jesus was listening to the woman’s cries all along, but He wanted to test her. Or maybe He was testing His disciples to see how they would respond to someone in need, even someone they would rather not be around. Jesus answered her cry for mercy because He is merciful—full of mercy. Mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve. He withholds judgment and punishment, not because we have earned it, not because we are somehow worthy, but because He is good and kind and compassionate.
The very fact that God’s Son was walking as a man among us shows us this. He did not come to bring down the wrath of God on a sinful world. He came to bring salvation. He came to offer up Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all sin. He came to suffer and be nailed to a cross and have the Father ignore His cries for mercy, so that justice would be done. Sin had to be paid for, and Jesus paid the penalty with His holy blood.
His death in our place proves that God is merciful toward us, and that He will hear our anguished cries. One of our hymns expresses this beautifully: “Jesus, in Thy cross are centered / All the marvels of Thy grace; / Thou, my Savior, once hast entered / Through Thy blood the holy place: / Thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption, / From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption; / The way is now free to the Father’s high throne, / Where I may approach Him, in Thy name alone” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #182, v. 8).
Jesus’ death in our place means that God the Father hears our prayers and cries even when it seems like He doesn’t. Often we become discouraged about prayer. We might think that God knows what we need anyway, so why bother praying. Or we might be disappointed that God did not give us something we wanted, so we gave up asking for anything. But our reluctance to pray, our doubts, and our impatience are problems with us, not God.
He invites and urges us to bring our requests and troubles to Him, whether they are large or small. He promises to hear them, every single one. And He promises to answer them, always in the way that is the best for us, even if we cannot see the good at the time. He wants us to pray like the Canaanite woman, trusting His Word, never giving up, coming to Him again and again even when it seems like His ears are closed.
His ears are not closed. They are wide open. They hear you, every cry, every question, every whimper, every whisper. Maybe no one else is listening, maybe no one else understands. But God hears. He understands. There is no anguish or pain you feel that Jesus did not feel. He can sympathize with you because He suffered all things in His time on earth. He endured this suffering out of love for you. He suffered to save you, to bring you into communion with Him and to prepare you for the eternal glories to come.
He wants you to cry out in His name for all your needs, to leave your deepest concerns and struggles with Him. Pray for your own health and strength. Pray for your children like the Canaanite woman did. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your neighbors. Pray boldly and persistently knowing that The Merciful Lord Hears You. He wants you to pray. He wants you to draw near to His throne of grace with confidence, where He promises that you will find “mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
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(picture from 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
The Second Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 15:4-13
In Christ Jesus, on whose blood and righteousness our hope of eternal life is built, dear fellow redeemed:
If God let you see who in your community would be going to heaven, how do you think you would react? Maybe He would reveal crowns on their heads visible only to your eyes. I think what you saw would surprise you. “You mean that person is going to be saved? This can’t be right!” “But what about them? Where are their crowns? There must be some mistake!” It may well be that some of the good and kind people you know will not be counted among the believers on the last day. And some of those who seem especially wicked now may be standing next to you praising the Lord.
The Israelites in the Old Testament could hardly imagine that the unbelieving peoples around them might ever join them in worshiping the true God. These pagans worshiped false gods and ignored God’s moral law. The Scriptures refer to them as belonging to the “nations,” a word that is also translated “Gentiles” like it is in today’s Epistle. A “Gentile” was a non-Israelite, one who did not know the Scriptures.
The Israelites had strict instructions to stay away from the Gentiles, so they would not be tempted to sin like they did. The Israelites did not always listen to this warning. As we know from Old Testament history, they often joined the Gentiles in their wickedness and worshiped other gods. At the same time, we also have examples of Gentiles who repented of their former ways and joined the Israelites. Rahab was one of these. She left her life of prostitution, married an Israelite man, and was part of the ancestral line of Jesus (Mat. 1:5).
In other words, nationality or family background were not the determining factors for whether or not a person believed. If these were the only factors, faith would not matter. As long as you had the right bloodline, the right family tree, you wouldn’t have to think much about your behavior or your actions. This could only lead to entitlement thinking and racism to the highest degree. There’s enough of that in the world; we don’t need it in the church too.
In the world, one group rejects another because of the color of their skin, the language they use, or where they came from. None of those factors should make a bit of difference to the members of Christ’s church. If you and I were to exclude others because of their family origins or background, don’t we see that we should exclude ourselves as well? I think most if not all of us descended from those pagan nations, from the Gentiles. These were the peoples the LORD carefully guarded the Israelites from.
Why did He do that? The LORD wanted the Israelites to be separate in order to preserve the promise, His promise. He said to Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “All the nations” would be blessed through Abraham, because the Savior would come through Abraham. So God had to preserve a remnant who would know this promise and hand it down through the generations. This was done through the teaching of the Scriptures. The Scriptures were sometimes tucked away in a closet and forgotten about, but they were never lost.
We still have the Old Testament Scriptures today. That was by God’s design. In today’s Epistle, St. Paul states, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul goes on to quote the Scriptures. He quotes from the inspired words of David in Psalm 18(:49), then from Moses (Deu. 32:43), then from another Psalm (117:1), then from Isaiah (11:10). What do all these say? They tell us that God planned salvation not only for His chosen people, but for the Gentiles too.
This is good news for us! It means it is possible for anyone to be saved. We tell our kids that it is possible they could be the president of the United States one day. But that possibility does not apply to everyone. It only applies to those who were born as citizens of this country, who have lived here at least fourteen years, and are at least thirty-five years old.
The Gospel promise is for all people in all places. Jesus came to atone for everyone’s sins. Each person’s sin was counted against the Lord, not just the sins of those who would enter heaven someday. Jesus died in the place of both Jews and Gentiles, both males and females, both the outwardly good and the outwardly bad.
This shows us how great the mercy of the Lord is. It’s one thing to have mercy on someone you like, who displays humility and respect, and who showers thanks upon you for your kindness. But what about someone who curses your name, spits in your face, and casts your gifts aside? This is how we and the rest of the world were toward Jesus. Collectively we sinners sent Him to the cross. We sent Him there as though He were the wrongdoer, as though He were the law-breaker, as though He were the worst sinner—much worse than we are.
Jesus endured all this for us. That’s how merciful He is! That’s how much He loves us. Earlier in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, “For 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” (5:7-8). Christ died for sinners. That means He died for you.
When you pray for His mercy, you don’t have to wonder if He will give it. He has, He does, and He will. He is merciful even when we are not. Maybe we look at some members of our community as “second class.” Or we pick on people because of how they look. Or we love to remind others of the mistakes they have made. Or we treat those who disagree with us as less than human. Or we refuse to forgive someone because we want them to suffer like we have.
Mercy is not a natural component of human nature. Our sinful nature directs us toward selfishness, revenge, and a judgmental attitude. God had to teach us what mercy is, and He taught it through His Son. He did not give us what we deserved, which is eternal torment in hell for our sins. He gave us grace and forgiveness. He did this because His Son willingly took our place. His perfect Son was willing to bear the holy wrath of God, so we would have His mercy. God will not punish you for your sins, either now or in eternity. He punished His Son in your place instead.
Jesus died for you, but not just for you. He died for everyone around you too. Instead of imagining the people of our community as likely or not likely to join us in heaven based on their background, their circumstances, or their outward appearance, we should look at them as God does. God looks upon them with mercy. They are still living and breathing. Their fate—as far as we know—is not sealed. They need grace and forgiveness and hope just as much as we do. “Therefore welcome one another,” writes Paul, “as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
The Roman congregation to which Paul first addressed his letter was not perfectly united. It consisted of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Their backgrounds and customs were very different. One was a background of strict obedience to God’s law. The other was a background of license and freedom. How could the two ever come together? Their common ground was Christ, who fulfilled the Commandments for both, and who shed His holy blood for them all.
This is what has brought us together here as well. We do not all think the same. We do not see everything the same way. Sometimes our personalities clash, and we find it difficult to get along. But we are drawn together and kept together by the blood of Jesus. None of us is above another. None of us has more to boast about than another. None of us is more treasured in God’s sight than another. Each of us is equally forgiven of our sins, and each is clothed in the spotless garment of Jesus’ righteousness.
This, dear friends in Christ, is our hope. It is not an uncertain hope, a desperate hanging-on-by-our-fingertips kind of hope. Our hope is securely rooted in Jesus. It is a sure hope. This is the hope Paul writes about, which is planted and grows in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Where this hope is, there is faith toward God and love toward our neighbor, and there is a joyful anticipation of Christ’s return.
Do not let the devil, the world, and your own sinful weakness lead you to despair. The Lord looks upon you with mercy, and He will soon come again to free you from this world of trouble. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
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(picture is window from Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, whose gracious healing is impartially offered to all sinners, dear fellow redeemed:
The ten men in today’s Gospel were infected with leprosy, a disease that especially attacks the skin and nervous system. Nine of these men were Israelites and one was a Samaritan. They would typically have been at odds with each other, but their common illness brought them together. Any differences in their social status were set aside by their desperate situation. Leprosy was a great equalizer.
This disease is still active around the world but is rarely seen in the United States. In our country, the top two causes of death are heart disease and cancer. It would be difficult to find someone who had not lost a close relative or friend to one of these diseases. They are illnesses that strike all types—the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the physically weak and the physically fit.
When people are diagnosed with serious conditions like this, they are often willing to do whatever it takes to get better. They will endure the rigor and discomfort of treatment plans and surgical procedures. They will suffer the various side effects from medication. They will commit large amounts of time and money—all in the hopes of regaining the health they had before. This shows how valuable people consider their health to be.
It’s also the case that we place a higher value on things that are harder to come by and not as available as they were before. When we are in good health, we take it for granted. We don’t recognize what we have until we don’t have it anymore. Nothing gets a person exercising and watching what he eats like a health scare does. Even a cold or a headache remind us what we have to be thankful for.
Now suppose you had a serious health problem, and somebody offered you medication with a 100% success rate. “There must be a catch,” you think. “Why don’t more people take advantage of this? The cost must be astronomical! The side effects must be unbearable!” You are informed that the side effects are nothing compared to your disease, but the cost is indeed much higher than you could afford. “But don’t worry!” you’re told. “The cost has been covered for you! You’re going to be cured!”
How would you feel about this? Shocked, no doubt, and blessed. How about thankful? The ten men were healed of their leprosy at no cost to themselves. There were no side effects. The only prerequisite to their healing was that they listen to Jesus’ word and do what He told them. Now this took faith! Why show themselves to the priest when nothing about their condition had changed? Right after Jesus talked with them, the patches of leprosy still showed up on their skin. But then on the way, they were cleansed! Their trust in Jesus was rewarded.
They were shocked. They felt blessed. But for whatever reason, they did not return to thank their Healer. Only one of them—the Samaritan—turned back praising and thanking God as He fell at Jesus’ feet. But then the other nine lepers had a lot on their minds! Jesus told them to show themselves to the priest, and the process of being declared clean was time consuming. Besides, they missed their loved ones terribly. God wouldn’t want them to delay their reunion, would He? He wouldn’t discourage them from returning immediately to their homes and occupations.
Leprosy was a great equalizer. When the men had it, they together cried out for Jesus’ mercy. But when their disease no longer troubled them, they forgot about Jesus. Jesus did not forget about them. “Were not ten cleansed?” He asked. “Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Their ungratefulness should trouble us just as it troubled Jesus. We may even imagine that we would have been like the Samaritan. We would have returned to give thanks. But let’s move the question from the theoretical to the actual. Jesus has not healed us from leprosy, but He has healed us from something far worse, something much more damaging than an infection. He has healed us from our sin.
This sin had left its mark on every inch of our body and soul. It had traveled through every vein. It saturated our heart. How could we be freed from its terrible effects? Some just let it be. They act like it isn’t there. They are like the guy with frostbite, who says he doesn’t feel pain, but who can’t move his fingers anymore either. Others figure they can address the sin on the inside by doing good works on the outside. But no matter how good a rotting board or rusted car looks with a new coat of paint, the issue underneath the paint will keep getting worse.
No human remedy could fix the problem of sin. Sin is a great equalizer, which affects all people the same. The harder we try to get rid of it ourselves, the deeper it sinks inside. We who are responsible for our sin are not qualified to remove it. And God wants us to know this. He wants us to admit our powerlessness over sin. He wants us to humbly acknowledge that we have a problem.
And God has the solution. The solution is His only Son. He sent His perfect Son to become Man. Sending His Son into the sinful world was something like a father pushing his healthy son into a leper colony. In that respect, Jesus did not belong here. He was far above this place, this world. He did not deserve to be sent in among sinners.
But He came willingly. He had compassion on His people. He saw their sorry state. He heard their cries for mercy. He came to save them. The only way to free them from their sin was to take their sins upon and into Himself. Their sin required a spotless Lamb, a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was that “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh. 1:29). When He was nailed to the cross, all our sin was nailed there with Him. “[B]y means of his own blood,” He secured our “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). He paid the price in full. He “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26).
This payment was made for all sinners. But an inheritance does a person no good unless he is informed about it. God distributes His salvation through the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives the blessings of Christ’s death through the message of Christ’s death. Now this Word of God does not appear to have much power. It does not make the pages of a Bible glow. It does not always seem to have a great effect on those who hear and read it. Jesus’ Word to the lepers didn’t seem effective either. But hearing His Word and believing it, the lepers were cleansed.
God promises that His Word will not return to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). It brings healing to the sick, comfort to the distressed, and peace to the hurting. And you know this in your own life. You know the relief you have when you lay your sins before Jesus and hear His Word of forgiveness absolving you of all your sins. You hear Him declare you clean and pure in His sight and an heir of eternal life. There is no spiritual bill of health we could receive that is better than this.
But it is easy to take God’s grace for granted. We may think that we have heard this Gospel message plenty of times. We know what Jesus did for us. We don’t need to hear about it again and again. We can go without the Word and Sacraments for a while. They will be there for us when we have time for them. And in this way, we see the availability of the Gospel something like the availability of oxygen. It’s always there when we need it, so we don’t need to give it much thought. “When I need an extra supply,” we say, “I’ll know where to find it.”
Why don’t we treasure these blessings of God more? Is it because they are too easy to get? Would we value them more if they were harder to come by? If that is the case, then we are saying we want some of the responsibility for making things right with God. Or is it actually that we want some of the credit? Those efforts all fail. We cannot get ourselves right with God. He made peace with us, and He brings us that peace through the means of grace.
And His grace is easy to get. Martin Luther wrote that if “forgiveness of all sin, grace, and eternal life” could come by picking up a piece of straw or by plucking out a feather, wouldn’t we do this joyfully? Wouldn’t we treasure and cherish those simple items? “Why then are we such disgraceful people,” he asks, “that we do not regard the water of baptism, the bread and wine, that is, Christ’s body and blood, the spoken word, and the laying on of man’s hands for the forgiveness of sin as such holy possessions?” Why don’t we appreciate that by these means, “he wishes to sanctify and save [us] in Christ?” (“On the Councils and the Church,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 41, p. 172).
By our sporadic or reluctant use of God’s Word, we show that our spiritual health is not as valuable, not as pressing a concern, as it should be. We show ourselves to be ungrateful for the cleansing of sin carried out by the Lord. We overlook this blessing because our minds are often on other things, things that will not last.
And yet God has called us once again to receive the antidote for sin through His Word. He has not taken back His gifts from us. He has not cast us out because of our ungratefulness. He cleanses us today. He restores our spiritual health. He strengthens our faith so that we want to hear His Word more and serve Him more faithfully. He does this because we are valuable to Him. We are worth His time. He has mercy on us, and His mercy endures forever.
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(“The Healing of Ten Lepers” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gives more than we ask for or could even imagine, dear fellow redeemed:
Two farmers planted their crops and closely watched the progress of their growth. One of them worried every step of the way. First he worried that the ground would dry out, so the seed could be planted. Then he worried that the plants would get the right amount of rain and sunshine. Rarely were the conditions on any given day perfect. If it was sunny and hot, he worried about the plants having enough moisture. If it was sunny and cool, he worried about slow growth. If it began to rain, he worried about too much or too little falling. He often thought about his bad fortune when things weren’t looking so good. There was not much joy in his work.
The other farmer considered all these factors, but he realized that hardly any of them were in his control. He had been at it long enough to know that the crop almost always turned out—some years a little better and some years a little worse. He didn’t get too excited by the highs or too depressed by the lows. Farming hadn’t made him rich, but it was a good way of life. He enjoyed his work.
The difference between these two men could be chalked up to personality—one was more easy-going, the other a worrier. But the difference could also be that one relied on the Lord to provide for his needs, while the other relied on himself. If your livelihood and success depended entirely on you, of course you would be full of worry and stress! But if you know that the living God cares for you, His dear child, you will confidently look for blessings from His hand.
We see a wonderful example of the Lord’s care in today’s Gospel lesson. A great crowd had been with Him for three days and had even followed Him into the wilderness. Any food they had brought with them was all but gone. But the text does not say that the people approached Jesus about their hunger.
They did not have to ask Jesus to feed them, because He already knew. His care for them came from His own heart of love. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said. “And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Not only was he aware of their hunger. He was aware that some had further to travel than others. He knew these people, and He cared for them deeply.
He wanted His disciples to have the same care for the people. He wanted them to love these neighbors of theirs and to participate in their help. But all they could produce was seven loaves of bread. How could such a small amount feed four thousand men? Reasonably speaking, it couldn’t. There probably wouldn’t even be one crumb available for each person who was present.
But God, as the Bible says, “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). We so often forget that. We assume that most everything in our lives depends on ourselves. This causes us to despair when things go bad or to be full of pride when things go well. We forget that it is the Lord who provides.
If we do well at our work, we should remember that God has given us the strength, the mental capacity, and the character traits to do a good job. This is what we recite in the First Article of the Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them” (Small Catechism). If God did not give and preserve these qualities, we could not do anything. Our success comes entirely from Him.
But we don’t always succeed in our work. Does that mean the Lord has failed to provide for us, or that He has given up on us? We know this is not the case. He cares for us. Because He cares for us, He knows exactly what we need. He knows when to bless by giving and when to bless by withholding.
Sometimes He withholds because it would not be good for us to succeed. We don’t see the trouble ahead, but He does. He may also withhold to teach us patience and endurance, or to get us to step up and work harder. Whether we receive little or plenty, we should be thankful for the portion we have and use it to the glory of God.
Jesus here also teaches us how to respond to the gifts of God. What did He do before breaking apart the seven loaves and giving them to His disciples to distribute? He gave thanks. He gave thanks for seven loaves of bread and a few small fish as He looked upon a crowd of thousands. Proportionally that would be something like giving thanks to God for one grain of rice on an otherwise empty plate. No matter the amount of the gift, we learn from Jesus to be thankful and to give thanks. Seven loaves of bread were better than none; they were something. And the Lord knew how to turn them into much, much more.
What are some of the things in your life that are easy to take for granted but are great gifts from God? Your family, for one, and your house and health and job. Any of us here can open our cupboards and see how God provides food. We can open our closets and see how God provides clothing. We can open our contact list or directory and see how God provides friends.
God typically does not give the bare minimum—He blesses us in abundance. The crowd of four thousand men ate their fill of bread and fish, and there were still seven baskets left over! In the same way, our homes are filled with good things, enough to keep us happy and satisfied for a long time.
What is our response to these gifts? Imagine if the crowd of four thousand was enjoying its miraculous lunch, and one after another started to complain and ask for more. “Could we get a little butter for this bread?” “How about some salt?” “Is there anything for dessert?” By these demands for more, the people would seem discontent and ungrateful.
How is it for you? Are you content with the gifts the Lord has given you? If you are, how do you show it? Do you remember to thank Him for what you have? One of the best times to thank the Lord is when you take time out of your day to eat. Here the Lord is providing you with the nourishment you need to continue your work. Without food and drink you could not survive.
So you ask Him to bless the food before you that it may benefit your body and strengthen you. Some of you use the “Thank You Prayer.” It is a great prayer that comes directly from Scripture. Notice that this prayer is not simply saying thanks for the food. It is thanking the Lord for His goodness and His ongoing mercy that accompanies us into eternity: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”
The Lord is good to us in so many ways, we cannot keep track of all of them. His earthly gifts aren’t even the best part of His care! The best part of our Father’s care is what He accomplished for us through His Son. Jesus’ greatest work was not turning seven loaves of bread into food for thousands. His greatest work was giving Himself up as the sacrificial Lamb on the cross and rising again from the dead in glory.
This unmatchable gift of Jesus means that our sins are no longer counted against us. Whenever we have worried that everything depended on our efforts, or despaired because our hard work did not pay off, or become prideful because of our success, or failed to give thanks to God in daily prayer, He declares us forgiven of these sins through the blood of Christ. Today is a new day, a fresh opportunity, to set aside those worries, put our trust totally in Him, and thank Him for His blessings both great and small.
God is not a vengeful overlord who will punish us for our failures. Nor does He award His gifts based on our merit. Nobody deserves the good things He gives. But He still has compassion on the crowd. He still provides for the needs of all people—and especially His dear children—on account of His loving care. If you are in need, He wants you to pray for His help. If He has given you plenty, He wants you to share with those who have little. If you have what you need but not all you want, He encourages you to pray for contentment.
The Lord loves you with a tremendous love, and He promises to provide for your needs. Jesus said, “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—what you need for this body and life—will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33). When His Word is your priority, you will find like the crowd did that all your earthly needs will be taken care of.
Then you can go about your work with joy and thankfulness. Joy in knowing that our compassionate Lord is eager to give such gifts, and thankfulness for His abundant blessings.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, who does hear and who does help, dear fellow redeemed:
What was the first sign that something was wrong with her little girl? Maybe it was gradual. Maybe it was the culmination of multiple incidents where her daughter said things she had never said before or behaved in ways that were nothing like her usual behavior. The changes could not be chalked up to the typical attitude issues of growing girls and boys. Something more sinister was at work. Her daughter’s erratic behavior convinced the mother that she was under the influence of a dark force. She believed that a demon had entered her.
But how could she be so sure? Our culture would not see this as a valid diagnosis. The experts would want to assign some sort of mental or behavioral disorder to this girl, something that could be treated with medicine or therapy. We have to assume her demon possession was obvious. Maybe she behaved like the girl in Philippi who could tell people’s fortunes (Act. 16:16). In that case, Paul cast out her demon “in the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 18).
Whatever the symptoms of her demon possession, the strain upon her mother was great. But she had hope. At some point, she had heard the prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures, and she had heard about the works of Jesus. She believed that this Jesus, who had cast out demons from others and had even raised the dead, could and would help her and her daughter.
She must have thought about going in search of Jesus. No desperate mother would do less. But such travel plans were not necessary. Jesus came to her. The text does not indicate that He came to the district of Tyre and Sidon for her sake. In fact, the evangelist Mark says that Jesus entered a house in the region “and did not want anyone to know” (Mar. 7:24). But when the Canaanite woman heard He was close by, “immediately” she came and “fell down at his feet” (v. 25) and cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon!”
It is significant that she said, “have mercy on me, O Lord.” This shows what pain the mother was feeling. She was probably suffering even more intensely than her daughter, assuming the girl was not aware what had happened to her. We can appreciate the mother’s perspective. We understand the pain of watching someone we love come under the influence of the devil. This could be a close family member or friend who discards the saving faith because they want to live in sin free of any moral restraints, or because they think human reason and worldly wisdom have more to offer than God’s Word.
This is not to say that a demon has taken up residence in each of these cases. But it is true that a person who no longer wants to listen to and abide by the Word of God is under the devil’s influence if not under his absolute control. These situations are heartbreaking. We want nothing more than to have the people we love here join us forever in heaven. But we cannot make it so. We cannot impose our will or our faith upon others. And we cannot assume that just because a person is baptized and confirmed, that they will always believe.
What we can do is to teach our children the truth (Pro. 22:6). We can encourage fellow Christians to hear the Word (Heb. 10:25). We can prepare ourselves to be ready to speak to others about the hope we have (1Pe. 3:15). And we can always, always pray. We can pray for those whom the devil has drawn away from Christ. And like the woman in the text, we can pray for God’s mercy on us.
But how can you and I be certain that God hears our prayers? I am sure that you have prayed at some point that God would change someone’s heart and lead them to Him in repentance and faith. But as far as you can tell, your prayer has not been answered. Maybe your marriage is still rocky. Your adult child keeps avoiding the topic of getting back to church. Your co-worker still treats you with disrespect. Your neighbor still hates you. This is a helpless feeling.
The devil wants you to think that your prayers to the Lord are a big waste of time. He wants you to become impatient when God does not meet your timetable. He wants you to feel totally alone, totally helpless to confront the evil that afflicts you. But the Lord does hear your prayers. He is not a liar; the devil is. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8). He couldn’t present the effectiveness of prayer in more glowing terms.
But there is more to prayer than being certain God hears it. Prayer also requires trust that God knows the best time and way to answer it. If we instantly received everything we asked God for, we wouldn’t have to give much thought to His mercy. “Oh, my bank account is getting low”—here’s another $1000. “Oh, I’m getting the sniffles”—here’s perfect health. “Oh, I’m having some troubles at home and work”—here’s a perfect homelife and workplace. Getting everything we wanted all the time would spoil us. It would keep us thinking about our own needs and wants, instead of remembering the will of God for our lives and the needs of our neighbors.
St. Patrick, whose life is celebrated on March 17th, is an excellent example of this. He was captured from his home on the English coast when he was sixteen and taken as a slave to Ireland. He prayed for deliverance for six years before he was able to escape on a ship to France. But Patrick couldn’t forget the sad condition of the pagan people of Ireland. So he studied to be a pastor and returned to the land of his captivity as a missionary. His preaching of the Gospel led to the conversion of many of the Irish people. His time as a slave was not pleasant, but God used it for his good and the good of many others.
By sometimes delaying His answer to our prayers, the Lord trains us to recognize our own weaknesses and grow in faith. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). Our priorities are not always where they should be. Our faith is not as strong as God wants it to be. But through our sufferings and trials, that faith is tested and purified like gold in a hot fire.
This is what Jesus wanted to accomplish in His interactions with the Canaanite woman. At first, it seemed as though He did not hear her cry for mercy – “He did not answer her a word.” But the woman did not give up. She believed that this Man before her was the “Son of David,” the Savior promised for sinners. She cried out again and again to the extent that the disciples became annoyed. They now petitioned Jesus to do something for or about her. This means the woman had succeeded in enlisting others to plead with Jesus on her behalf.
We get the impression that Jesus may have been walking away from the woman at this time. So she stopped Him in His tracks. “[S]he came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” Again, she did not say, “Have mercy on my daughter. Help her.” She said, “help me.” Because the way Jesus would show mercy to her and help her was to help her daughter. But Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. It is not right to take the children’s bread—what belongs to the Israelites—and throw it to the dogs—the Gentiles.”
And here, the faith of this Gentile woman shines. She does not dispute that Jesus came for the Israelites. She would not steal their portion from them. But she believed that if Jesus had mercy for the Israelites, then He had plenty of mercy for her too. If they should be served bread, she like an eager house pet would gladly lick up the crumbs.
This is how to pray with faith in the Lord’s promises. Because Jesus has told us to pray and promises to hear us, we “pray without ceasing” (1Th. 5:17) for the needs of ourselves and others. We pray even when it seems that God does not hear our prayers or does not have time for us. He does not need to prove His love and care for us. He has already proven that beyond any doubt.
This Wednesday in our midweek services, we will hear from Isaiah how our Lord “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” how “he was wounded for our transgressions,” how “with his stripes we are healed” (53:4,5). He did this for all people, for Jews and Gentiles. He gathered up all their heartache, all their pain, all their sin, and carried all of it to the cross. The cross is where Jesus reconciled sinners with their Creator, where He won access for us “to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
This is what the Son of God took on flesh to do, and the Canaanite woman believed it. She believed that God’s presence in the flesh meant that He would not deny her cry for mercy. Why else would He be here, except to save sinners? You can bring your requests before God with the same confidence—confidence that He took on flesh for you and those you love.
When you pray for any who are suffering, you do not pray to an impersonal god, one who has no clear motivation to assist mankind. You pray to your heavenly Father in the name of His Son, the-God-who-became-Man. You pray knowing of the love He has for you, His child. You pray knowing that The Lord Has Mercy, and that He will answer your prayer in the best way and at the right time.
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(picture is from a 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, whose comfort renders sweet ev’ry bitter cup we meet (ELH #293, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
He remembered the day when he first noticed the spot on his leg. It didn’t hurt when he touched it. He felt fine. Maybe it was just a little irritation or rash from something he ate or rubbed against. He tried to tell himself it was nothing to worry about, but it stayed on his mind. He started checking it every day and multiple times during the day. The light patch on his skin was expanding. The hairs inside the patch turned white. The thought of what this might be made him sick. He went to the priest. The priest looked at his leg and uttered the diagnosis he was dreading, “You have leprosy. You are unclean.”
The man knew what came next. The LORD had spelled it out clearly to Moses and Aaron many years before: “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” (Lev. 13:45-46). His home would not be his home anymore. He must leave his family. Very likely, he would never again hug them or share the joys and sorrows of life with them. His living quarters would be outside the city with others who had this disease, with others who were miserable like him. He was crushed beyond words.
None of us has been in a situation quite like this. But we have known sorrows and troubles for which there seemed to be no remedy. You or someone you love may have been diagnosed with a serious disease or injury, and no cure for it is available. A relationship may have soured, and you don’t know how to fix it. You are stuck in debt and don’t know how to get out. It is times like these that our glass looks half empty. You might even be suffering to such an extent that a half empty glass sounds like a great scenario. You feel so far in the depths; you are down to the dregs. So it was for the leprous man and others in his community.
But then the lepers heard whispers, whispers of hope. It was said that a man named Jesus had the power to heal. Who He was, no one knew for sure. The rumors could hardly be true. But if they were, if Jesus could do this, maybe He would heal them. Wherever Jesus went, a crowd followed Him. Ten lepers saw this crowd and were able to find out who the people were gathered around. From a distance, these men cried out with one voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Many people in the crowd probably didn’t notice, but Jesus heard them. They were about to find out if the rumors about Jesus’ power were true.
Jesus looked their way and said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” But why should they do that? The only reason they might go to the priest is if their leprosy had disappeared. This was not the case; their skin was still covered in it. It would have been easy for them to ignore Jesus and say, “I guess the rumors weren’t true. He couldn’t help us after all.” But they followed His direction; they trusted His word. This was a great test of their faith.
It is likewise a test of our faith when God promises to work all things for good (Rom. 8:28). What good can come of an injured back? What good can come of cancer? What good can come of a broken relationship? What good can come of money problems? What good can come of an addiction? It is easy to doubt that God can help. This is just what the devil wants. The devil wants us to doubt God’s promises. He wants us to be angry at God and at the people who hurt us. He wants us to grow bitter and to despair. He wants us to focus so much on our troubles here, that we no longer look forward with hope.
But the Lord is merciful to us. When Jesus sent the lepers on their way, He cleansed them. Those who used to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” now cried with joy, “I’m clean! I’m clean!” Their faith in Jesus’ word was rewarded. Faith in Jesus is always rewarded, but not always in this way. Not all of our hurts are healed, not all of our problems are fixed simply because we trust in the Lord. God never promised this.
If we lived in a perfect world, we would experience no trouble. But the world is infected by sin and so is our body. Sin is the leprosy that afflicts all people. Some people show their sin a bit more on the outside, but all are the same on the inside. This is why the sinless One had to come. His blood held the cure for our disease. His body and blood were untainted by sin. He was holy. He offered up His holy life on behalf of sinners in fulfillment of God’s law, and He poured out His holy blood to counteract the effects of sin. “[T]he blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jn. 1:7).
Jesus shed His blood for all people. He invites all to believe in Him, just as the hymn says, “Come in poverty and meanness, / Come defiled, without, within; / From infection and uncleanness, / From the leprosy of sin, / Wash your robes and make them white; / Ye shall walk with God in light” (ELH #412, v. 2). Notice in today’s text that Jesus healed both Jewish and Gentile lepers. He made no distinction between them. His merciful goodness was the same for all.
We gather that nine of the leprous men were Jews, while one was a Samaritan Gentile. When they realized they were healed, only the Samaritan turned back, “praising God with a loud voice.” The one who had the least training in the Scriptures is the one who recognized what a gift he had received. We are often like the nine who did not return to give thanks. We can get so used to the gifts we receive from God, that we hardly notice them.
But where else do we find the full and free forgiveness of all our sins? Where else do we hear about God’s love and care for us in every area of our lives? Where else can we be covered in the righteousness of God and receive the body and blood of Jesus on our tongues? If these amazing gifts do not move us to give thanks to God, what could? And there are so many other gifts besides. The good Lord also provides for us everything that we need for this body and life.
Now imagine you have two empty glasses in front of you. One glass is for the difficulties in your life, and the other is for your blessings. On small pieces of paper, first write down your troubles, one at a time. This glass is for the guilt you feel, for your sadness, your aches and pains, your anxiety and stress, your loneliness, your depression, your doubts, your fears, your difficulties at home and at work. This would take some time—there is much that troubles us.
The other glass is for your blessings. These might be harder to think of initially, but they will come. You write down what you are thankful for: your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, a home to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear, a car, good friends, a good church, good health, air to breathe, pets to keep you company, beautiful trees and flowers, music, the warmth of the sun, rain and snow to water the ground, a free country, angels to guard you, the Law to teach you, the Gospel to cheer you, and heaven for eternity.
Which of these two glasses is fuller? Many days, it seems that the glass of our troubles is overflowing while the glass of our blessings is empty. But that is only how it seems. It seems this way because we are weak by nature. We do not wish to take up our cross and follow after Jesus. We think that other people deserve to suffer like this, but not us. This is sinful. It is prideful to think that we deserve anything good.
But what we do not deserve, God freely gives us. He is as He told Moses, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Our sinful mind tricks us to think the glass of our troubles is full. It isn’t; it’s empty. Jesus emptied it. He took all our guilt and pain and trouble upon Himself, and when He rose again from the tomb, all of that stayed buried.
Because of His life and death in your place, the cup of your blessings overflows. How can one who stands in God’s favor be without hope? How can one adopted by the mighty God go thirsty? Our journey through this fallen world is not easy; it is not without its great trials. But we go forward with the Lord’s clear Word in our ear. We go forward with the nourishment of His holy body and blood. Through His Word and Sacraments, the leprosy of our sin does not spread uncontrollably. It does not lead to a lonely and troubled death.
Our Lord’s Gospel of grace strengthens and keeps us in the saving faith. His promises fill our hearts with peace and with thankfulness for all the mercies He has shown us. Therefore, like the Samaritan, we go on our way rejoicing and praising God from whom all blessings flow.
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(“The Healing of Ten Lepers” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who counts our kindnesses toward our neighbor as having been done for Him (Mt. 25:45), dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” was shocking to the lawyer. The only individuals in Jesus’ example who acted like they would be expected to act were the robbers. The robbers did not care if the man they attacked lived or died. They just wanted whatever clothes or possessions he had. They did what selfish criminals do.
The priest and the Levite did not do what was expected. They belonged to the “clergy class” of the Israelites. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what should be done for a neighbor in need. But they passed by the man lying half dead by the road as though he was not even there! They had their reasons, no doubt. This was dangerous country. Maybe the man only appeared to be injured. Maybe this was a trap to lure them in. Besides, what could they do for this man if he really was seriously injured? There were no cell phones to call for help. Probably someone else would be coming along soon who would be more qualified to assist him. However they justified their decision, these church workers did not do what they should have done.
The Samaritan also acted unexpectedly, but not in the same way as the priest and Levite. Many would have understood if the Samaritan passed by this Jewish man. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along. For this Samaritan, coming across a wounded Jewish man was something like coming across a wounded enemy on the battlefield. Three things could be done in this situation: kill him, ignore him, or help him.
You also have some choices when you come into contact with neighbors you have known for a while, or neighbors you are meeting for the first time. According to the Bible’s definition, your neighbor is anyone around you, anyone you interact with. The neighbors you have most frequent contact with are the ones that live with you in your home. These neighbors are in a position to share your best moments with you and your worst. They can be the objects of your love and affection, but they can also be the recipients of your impatience and unkindness.
Besides the neighbors in your home, you come into contact with other neighbors on a daily basis. Your classmates and co-workers are your neighbors. The people you share the road with and pass by in the store are your neighbors. The friends you communicate with on social media are your neighbors. It is relatively easy to be nice to our neighbors when they are nice to us. But what about when our neighbors act like our enemies? What should we do when they go out of their way to criticize us, or jump in line ahead of us, or attack our beliefs and values?
The last seven Commandments are summarized with, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These Commandments refer to all your neighbors, not just the ones you like. Jesus says that your enemies are your neighbors too. “Love your enemies,” He says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Your love for your neighbors is not based on what they do for you but on what you are called to do for them. The dying man on the side of the road could not do anything for the Samaritan man. But that did not sway the Samaritan. He saw a neighbor in need, and “he had compassion” on him.
When you come across a neighbor, whether he is polite or ill-mannered, selfless or self-centered, thoughtful or impetuous, your job is to have compassion, to show love, to be kind. Jesus never tells us to treat people like they deserve. He said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12).
In the home a husband might wish that his wife didn’t nag him so much. “After all,” he thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say that a wife should submit to her husband?” His wife might wish that he paid more attention to her and the family. “After all,” she thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say a husband should be willing to sacrifice even his own life for his wife?” Both are focusing on what their neighbor should be doing for them. But it is not the husband’s job to make his wife submit to him. And it is not the wife’s job to make her husband sacrifice for her. When a husband out of love sacrifices for his wife, and when a wife out of love submits to her husband, then the marriage functions as God intended it, and the home is blessed (Eph. 5:22-33).
If you view your spouse or your children or anyone else around you as a burden and a hindrance to your happiness, then you will be like the priest and Levite who passed by a neighbor in need. But if you see your neighbors with eyes of compassion, as those who need mercy and love, then you will see them as God sees them. Then you will see them as God sees you.
God saw you and all sinners in a condition much like the man who had been robbed and beaten on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. He saw you stripped of all righteousness, battered by your sin, and dying. He could not bear to see you in this state. So He sent down His beloved Son to save you.
Jesus gave Himself to be attacked in your place. He took the beating you deserved for your sins. Isaiah writes that “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:5). The holy blood flowing from His wounds brought about your healing. A beautiful stanza in one of our hymns about death says, “I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds; / There pardon for my sins abounds. / Yea, Jesus’ blood and righteousness / My jewels are, my glorious dress. / In these before my God I’ll stand / When I shall reach the heav’nly land” (ELH 530, v. 1).
Through the shedding of His blood, Jesus won forgiveness for sinners. We did nothing to deserve this compassion and grace. We had gotten ourselves into trouble. We had wandered off the safe path. Like foolish sheep, we had gone our own way (Is. 53:6). But the Lord had mercy upon us. Like the Good Samaritan, He began to heal the wounds of our sin by pouring on the oil and wine of His saving Gospel. He brought us into the inn of His Church through the waters of Baptism, and He continues to care for us there through His Word and Sacraments. Jesus’ forgiveness cost Him His life, but it doesn’t cost us anything. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift bestowed on us for our soul’s salvation.
Jesus was motivated to save us totally by His own love. If He waited to save people until they proved their worthiness, no one would be saved. In this, we learn how we should be toward our neighbors. Our love should not wait until our neighbors prove themselves worthy of it. Our Christian love should have no boundaries or limitations. No one has sinned against us more than we sinned against God, and yet He still loves us with a love that cannot be measured.
None of us has loved our neighbors as we should. There have been plenty of times that we left a neighbor lying by the side of the road. Maybe we were too busy with our own plans. Maybe we were tired of dealing with our neighbor’s self-inflicted wounds. Maybe we were bitter because our neighbor was not there for us when we were in need. At the time, our action—or inaction—may have seemed justified, but now we regret not being there and trying to help. We cannot make up for these missed opportunities. But we can move forward in grace. Jesus forgives our lack of love toward others.
His love for us is unchanging, and He does not give up on us. He has more opportunities planned for us—opportunities every day, every hour—to show love to our neighbors. But why does He keep entrusting us with the love and care of our neighbors, when we have failed so often? God knows how to accomplish great things even through weak hands and feeble efforts. Through imperfect marriages, He provides stability and security for the family. Through imperfect employees, He provides a vast array of products and services. Through imperfect congregation members and pastors, He provides for the administration of the means of grace.
The love that we show to our neighbors does not come from some storehouse of good inside us. It comes from Him. The Lord uses our mouths, our hands and feet, our talents and abilities to carry out His work of mercy and love in the world. This love has the power to disrupt the regular pattern of sin in the world. The world expects you to look out for yourself first and foremost. But what if in humility you put your neighbor first? Others will probably look at you wide-eyed, like the innkeeper must have looked at the Good Samaritan for going so far out of his way to help a stranger. Then you may have the opportunity to share with them the source of your love.
You love because God first loved you (1Jn. 4:19). You serve because He served you (Mt. 20:28). You sacrifice because He sacrificed Himself for you. Your life of compassion and care for your neighbors is simply a reflection of the greater love God has for you. He is the one who comforts you when you are mistreated by your neighbor. And He is the one who strengthens you to look with compassionate eyes at those around you, so that through you, they also may come to know His undying mercy and love.
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(“Parable of the Good Samaritan” painting by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)