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.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture is 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.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(“The 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.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of 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)
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 18:9-14
In Christ Jesus, who comes through His Word and Sacraments to bring us the righteousness and peace we could never produce on our own, dear fellow redeemed:
The setting for Jesus’ parable was the temple of Jerusalem. It was there that two men went to pray. But these two made their petitions to the Lord in very different ways. One was full of self-confidence. He believed that God must be very pleased with him, and he bragged for all to hear about his own goodness and faithfulness. The other humbly stood off by himself and would not even lift up his eyes to heaven. He was sorry for his sins. His only hope for salvation was God’s mercy.
This parable teaches us how to conduct ourselves when we come before God. It provides the blueprint which our own liturgy follows. Today, we examine the liturgy of the divine service in this light. The opening prayer of the old Norwegian service tells us exactly why we come here to church week after week. It is so that through the preaching of God’s Word “we may be taught to repent of our sins, to believe on Jesus in life and death, and to grow day by day in grace and holiness” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, p. 41).
I. The Service of Preparation
Our worship begins at the font where we were baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We return to those cleansing waters “by daily contrition and repentance,” as Luther writes in the Catechism. It is through this heartfelt sorrow over sin and our confession of it, that we drown our old Adam, which wants us to trust in ourselves and not in Jesus.
In the Confession of Sin we admit that we are “poor sinners,” who are “by nature sinful and unclean,” and that we have sinned against God “by thought, word, and deed.” But at the same time, like the tax collector, “we flee for refuge to [God’s] infinite mercy.” We know that He is merciful and gracious because He sent His only Son to take our place and to be punished for our sins.
After confessing our sin, we sing the Kyrie Eleison, a version of the tax collector’s humble prayer. “Kyrie” is the Greek word for “Lord,” and “Eleison” is the Greek word for “have mercy.” “Kyrie Eleison” is “Lord, have mercy.” In this prayer, we ask the Triune God to have mercy upon us, not just regarding our sinful condition, but to have mercy upon us in all aspects of life. We pray for His mercy upon ourselves, our family, friends, and neighbors, that He would provide for our needs, keep us safe from harm, and bless us through His holy Word.
Then we hear the sweet words of Jesus’ Absolution. We may have failed badly, or fallen deeply into sin. Our guilt may trouble and torment us. We may even wonder if it would be better for everyone if we were gone. But Jesus promises that “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37). Anyone who comes to Him with “a broken and contrite heart” He will not despise (Ps. 51:17). You can be certain that the Lord has heard your cry for mercy, just as He heard the cry of the tax collector.
He sends His servant to declare to you, “By the authority of God and of my holy office I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”—this last part being another reminder of the cleansing waters of baptism. These words of Absolution do not express the hope that you will be forgiven. They place no condition on you, that you must somehow prove yourself worthy before you can receive this forgiveness.
In His Absolution, Jesus pours forgiveness over your head. He gives it to you freely and fully. Forgiveness does not depend on you; it depends entirely on Him. He won forgiveness through His death on the cross, and He can give it to anyone He wants. He gives it to you. Having received this forgiveness by faith, we rejoice. We sing the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the song the angels sang the night Jesus was born. We give glory to God for the peace that Jesus obtained for us by His grace, which He bestows on us in the Absolution—“and on earth peace.”
The parts of the liturgy to this point are preparing us for the hearing and learning of God’s holy Word. In the Salutation, the pastor speaks of the gracious coming of the Lord, “The Lord be with you.” The congregation responds with, “And with your spirit,” which is an affirmation of the pastor’s call to preach the Word in their midst. Then the Collect is spoken, a prayer which “collects” or “gathers” the prayers of the congregation into a general petition based on the theme of the day.
II. The Service of the Word
After this time of preparation, the Scripture lessons are read. The Old Testament Lesson prophesies in some way about the work that Jesus the Messiah would carry out. The Epistle Lesson comes from the letters the apostles wrote to the first Christian churches about what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection means for all people. The Holy Gospel includes an account of Jesus’ teachings or miracles, which have application to our lives today. Because the words were spoken in person by Jesus—God in the flesh—we rise to hear His holy words.
Following these lessons, we confess in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed what God has taught us about Himself. You can hear the words for part of the Creed in today’s Epistle Lesson where Paul writes “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3-4).
The tax collector knew the Scriptures, which is why he was certain of God’s mercy. The Word of God produces faith and strengthens faith. The Sermon is where God’s Word is applied to our lives. The sermon is not about the pastor. This is why he wears a robe and stands behind the pulpit. The sermon is the proclamation of God’s Law which condemns our sins, and God’s Gospel which assures us of our forgiveness.
The main purpose of the sermon is to point us to Jesus and what He has done for us. Proud Pharisees want a sermon that makes them feel secure in their own righteousness and comfortable with how they have chosen to live their lives. Humble tax collectors want a sermon that uncovers their sins and leads them to the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus. Throughout the service, we sing various Hymns. Each of them is really a mini sermon, which speaks of our sin and of our salvation in Christ.
After the Sermon, we offer the Prayer of the Church for the needs of all people. This is what Paul counseled the early Christians to do. He urged “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1Tim. 2:1-2). Then we hear the beautiful Benediction of the New Testament, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” After this, we gather an Offering to support and promote the work of the Gospel (1Cor. 9:14, 16:2).
III. The Service of Holy Communion
Every other week, we prepare ourselves at this point in the service to receive the holy body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. In the Preface and General Preface, pastor and congregation call each other to recognize the wonderful gifts that are about to be distributed. We join with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” in lauding and magnifying the Lord’s glorious name.
We praise Him with the words of the Sanctus and Benedictus. The Sanctus is a song that comes from the angels in Isaiah’s vision, angels who sang “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:3). The Benedictus comes from Psalm 118, words which the great crowd used to welcome Jesus on Palm Sunday, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (v. 26). These are fitting words as we welcome our holy Lord and Savior to our midst, who comes to us in the lowly forms of bread and wine.
The Exhortation reminds us how we should prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming, and then we join together in singing the prayer which He taught us, the Lord’s Prayer. Then we hear His powerful Words of Institution, through which His body and blood are joined to the bread and wine. Again we echo the tax collector’s words as we sing the Agnus Dei, Latin for “Lamb of God.” Three times we repeat the words, “O Christ, the Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” The final time concludes with “grant us your peace.”
That is just what Jesus has come to do. We kneel before Him, burdened by our sins like the tax collector was and with our eyes downcast. Jesus comes to us to bring us peace through His body and blood, which is given and shed for us for “the remission of sins.” At the same time, He also strengthens our faith and increases love in our hearts toward one another. For these gifts we join our voices in Thanksgiving through song and prayer.
Our Christian life is not all about what we do for God, as the Pharisee thought. It is about what God does for us, which the tax collector believed. If you think the people around you in church need to hear the Word more than you do—especially the Law because they are so much more sinful than you are—then you need to repent of this Pharisaical pride. The Pharisee was lying to himself. He was just like other men, and so are you. You are a sinner, who desperately needs God’s mercy.
But when you like the tax collector set aside your pride and humbly pray, “God, Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner!” you will find a comforting answer to your petition. The answer is given through the means of grace administered to you in the divine service. Through His Word and Sacraments, the Lord brings you the forgiveness of your sins again and again and strengthens you for a godly life.
The divine service begins with the Trinitarian words of Baptism, and it ends with the Trinitarian blessing. This Benediction has been declared to the faithful for nearly 3500 years, “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” In these holy words, the LORD sends you to your home justified—pure and holy in His sight—because of what He has done for you.
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(woodcut of “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, God in the flesh, who fed the people by miraculous means, and who still fills hungry stomachs—and souls—today, dear fellow redeemed:
Much of human history is characterized by faithlessness and fear. We see this even in the first humans, Adam and Eve, who decided to go their own way and then tried to hide from the LORD. When people turn away from God and trust in their own plans and abilities, the world does not become better, but worse.
In the 1800s, some began to sound the alarm that the human population would soon outpace food production and lead to an international crisis. Others took this warning and shaped it into the horrible eugenics campaigns of the early 1900s. These programs were geared toward stopping the growth of certain portions of the population, especially through the sterilization of women. The targets of these programs were most often the poor and people of races that were considered inferior. These things happened in America and were sanctioned by the highest levels of government.
But as our country’s population increased in the last century, so did food production. Today, we have such an abundance of grain in America that we turn it into fuel and sell it to other countries. But there is still plenty of sin to go around. Many continue to work at curbing population growth, particularly through the killing of the unborn and the elderly. At the same time, others selfishly store up the plenty they have and ignore the needy. Still more believe they have the right to be as wasteful and reckless as they please with God’s good gifts.
They sin who think that whether or not we survive is in our hands. They also sin who think nothing about the Source of their earthly goods. Today’s Gospel lesson teaches us to set aside our fear and faithlessness and to see how The Lord Provides.
Should the crowd gathered around Jesus be criticized because they failed to plan for their trip into the wilderness? Isn’t it “Survival 101” to make sure you have an adequate supply of food and water before you go somewhere remote? We certainly don’t want to tempt God or expect our food to appear out of thin air. But the crowd was guilty of neither of these things. They were so eager to be with Jesus and listen to His teaching, that they hardly noticed their hunger. They were doing what Jesus commanded in His Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). They looked to Jesus, and He supplied what they needed.
Our text does not say that the people asked Jesus for food. It says He had compassion on them. He recognized their need. He did not want to send them away hungry, because they would faint on the way. But where would the food come from? It was a “desolate place.” The land could not supply what the people’s stomachs demanded.
If a crowd of hungry people were out in the wilderness today, what solutions might be offered for the problem? Those concerned with overpopulation might say, “Send the people on their way, and nature will sort out the fit from the weak.” Some might make the wealthier members of the crowd responsible for the poorer ones and task a few with going to buy food for all. Others might fling up their hands like the disciples did and say there is no solution to the problem.
From our human perspective, there is no easy fix in a situation like this. We don’t have to look very far for examples of hunger and suffering in the world. There are vast amounts of people who do not know where they will find their next meal. There are even people like this in our own communities. We can understand why some might think overpopulation is a cause of these problems and take steps to reduce the population. But “two wrongs don’t make a right.” We can also recognize the appeal of wealth redistribution, so that everyone has the exact same. But wherever that has been forced on a people, the result is that almost all are impoverished, and none are motivated to work hard.
Humankind will never find solutions for all the world’s problems. Until the end of time, there will be hunger, there will be violence and war, there will be sickness and trouble. All these are effects of sin in the world. Naturally, the non-Christian and the Christian will address these problems in different ways. Non-Christians see these problems and think progress and change depend entirely on their own efforts. Christians recognize that they do not have the power to set everything right in the world, and they look to the merciful God.
“But what has God done to solve the problems in the world?” You can imagine hearing that question. People want to know why there is hunger and other troubles if God has the power to help. So why doesn’t He? None of us knows the mind of the Lord. We cannot know for sure where and how He chooses to work.
What we do know is that He is a gracious and merciful God (Ex. 34:6). We know that His powerful Word is working to uphold and sustain creation (Heb. 1:3). We know that “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). We know that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6), so that His children are drawn closer to Him. It would not be good for us to get everything we wanted. If we did, then we would forget about God (Prov. 30:9). The Lord also lets our neighbors be in need, so that we have opportunities to show love to them.
If we have the attitude that we won’t take charity from anyone, and that we can make it on our own, don’t you think it is likely that we will feel the same way toward God? Regarding our physical needs, God has made it nearly impossible for us to go it alone. How do you make money? You need to be employed by someone, or have someone buy a product you are selling. How do you get food? You could hunt for what you need and have a big garden, but probably you will stop by the grocery store, which requires a long chain of people to get food on the shelf. How do you have support in the sad and difficult times of life? Often this comes from those around you who have experienced troubles of their own.
We were born to be in community, and we were born again (baptized) to become part of a Christian congregation. God provides for us both physically and spiritually through the efforts and hands of others. When we are not sure how to feed our families, God gives us kind neighbors to help us. When we are grieving, He gives us compassionate friends to comfort us. When we are burdened by our guilt and weaknesses, He sends us pastors to announce His gracious forgiveness and to distribute His life-giving food.
When you consider how much God has blessed you in your life through the hands of others, you will no longer criticize Him for what He has not done. Look at the family and friends you have. Look at how He has protected you from serious harm. Look at the ability He has given you to work. Look at the free and prosperous country where you live. In your sin, you do not deserve even seven loaves of bread and a few fish, but the Lord has blessed you many times over—so much that you can’t even remember it all.
Then why worry? Why “be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Mt. 6:31). Your heavenly Father knows what you need (v. 32). He has not forgotten about you. Even in your suffering, He has not forsaken you. He is with you even when you hit rock-bottom. He helps you get through what you could not get through on your own. The Lord does not require you to fix the problems in your life, much less the problems that plague the world. Instead He teaches you to look to Him, to trust Him. He provides for you.
He provides for you through others, just as He provides for others through you. King David wrote in Psalm 37, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing” (vv. 25-26). We have such an excellent example of the providence of God in today’s text. Jesus multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish, so that it fed 4000 hungry men and an unknown number of women and children! No one would have thought this was possible, but “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).
Why wouldn’t the Lord provide for your needs? He has already accomplished something far greater for you than filling your stomach. He bought back your soul with His precious blood to spare you from an eternity of suffering in hell. His blood blots out your anxiety and worry about not having enough, and it washes away your sin of not caring for your neighbors as you should. You are the blood-bought child of the heavenly Father, and He does not forsake His own.
No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, remember what your Savior has done for you and what more He still promises to do. Then you will see small blessings multiply, until your heart is overflowing with thankfulness toward Him.
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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, whose mercy endures forever, dear fellow redeemed:
The judge and jury were convinced that the defendant was guilty on all charges. He was about to be sentenced for his crimes and imprisoned for the rest of his life. The families of the victims were also present in the courtroom hoping for a conviction. The judge asked the defendant if he had anything more to say before the verdict was announced. He stood on shaky legs and turned to face the victims’ families. “I am so sorry,” he said. “I deserve whatever punishment I get. I did terrible things, and you have every right to hate me. I am sorry for everything. I hope someday you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I pray for God’s mercy.”
But on what basis should God be merciful to a man like that? After what he had done, why would he even hope for mercy? The same question may enter your mind when you think about some of things you have done in your life. Will God have mercy on you? If you think He will, why should He? Today’s text can at the same time make us feel concerned about this or hopeful. First, the parts that are concerning.
In general Jesus carried out His work of teaching and miracles among the Jews. But on a few occasions, He entered into Gentile territory like He did in today’s text. The evangelist Mark indicates He did this to have some time away from the crowds (7:24). But a Canaanite woman heard He was in the area and came looking for Him. She cried out to Him that her daughter was severely troubled by a demon. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” Of course Jesus would help, wouldn’t He? How could His loving heart refuse? But He said nothing to her.
The woman continued to cry out for mercy and plead for help. She did this so much, that the disciples begged Jesus to do something about her. Jesus replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This, too, seems out of character for Jesus. Didn’t He come to save all people? But here He seems to say that nationality is the determining factor – Jesus, a Jew, was sent to work among His fellow Jews. This would be something like a doctor in Iowa refusing to treat a person from Minnesota because she did not come from the right place.
But this case was actually not a matter of nationality. It was a matter of promise. God had promised to be with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Think of how patient He had been with them! He led them to the Promised Land and made them into a great nation. Time after time, He called them back to repentance and faith when they had fallen for the false gods of the nations around them. And finally the LORD sent them a Prophet like Moses to speak good news to them (Deu. 18:15). The LORD loved His chosen people with an enduring, steadfast love. This is why Jesus was so focused on “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the Canaanite woman was convinced not only that Jesus could help her, but that He would. She knelt directly in front of Him and said, “Lord, help me.” Jesus replied that it was not right to take bread from the children—the children of Israel—and throw it to the dogs, meaning the non-Israelites or Gentiles.
This is where doubt comes in. If Jesus was reluctant to help this woman because she was not part of a certain group, how can you know you stand securely in His favor? I am sure that you, as I do, have certain Christian family members and friends that you admire. It is not difficult to imagine that God is pleased with them. But you feel that you come up far short of their example. You hardly display the same wisdom, patience, and humility as they do. So you wonder: Will God have mercy on me, or am I a lost cause?
Jesus did have mercy on the Canaanite woman. She just wouldn’t give up. Even after He said the children’s bread is not for the dogs, she quickly replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then you can imagine a smile breaking out on Jesus’ face as His eyes brightened. “O woman, great is your faith!” He said. “Be it done for you as you desire.”
But here again, doubt creeps in. Jesus had mercy on this woman, but it isn’t as though our problems are as serious as hers. You might have a sore back or a bad knee. You might be struggling with something at school or work. You might have relationship problems. You might feel sadness over opportunities lost and times past. But those things do not seem to be in the same category as a demon-possessed child. Why should the Lord concern Himself about our little problems?
Or if it isn’t about the size of the problem, we wonder if God’s mercy depends on the amount of our faith. God knows—and maybe He resents—the way I treat Him and His Word as a last resort. He can see how little the flame of faith burns in my heart, and how easily distracted I am by the cares and pleasures of this life. If God’s mercy requires the kind of faith the Canaanite woman demonstrated, then I have reason to be concerned.
If God’s mercy can only be had by people who are good enough or by people with a strong enough faith, then I can’t imagine any of us being confident that we have it. But that is not how God’s mercy works. His mercy does not depend on a person’s worthiness. Then it wouldn’t really be mercy; it would be a reward.
God’s mercy comes from His own heart, His own gracious disposition toward humankind. This merciful disposition was not evident to the Canaanite woman at first, but that does not mean it wasn’t there. Jesus hid His mercy for a time in order to test the woman. But why did He allow this pain-stricken woman to feel even more pain?
We ask the same thing about the difficult times we go through. You may feel as though you cannot bear any more grief or pain or trouble, but more comes. Well-meaning friends tell you to remember that, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” But you feel like you reached the limit of what you can handle a long time ago.
The reality is there isn’t much that we sinners can “handle”—and really nothing on our own. We are weak; there is no storehouse of spiritual strength inside us. God teaches us to recognize this by testing us. He sends trials our way to purify our faith, like a hot fire that purifies gold. He directs us not to our own worthiness, our resolve, our problem-solving ability, or our own strength. Through tests and trials, He draws our focus to Him.
That is what happened with the Canaanite woman. Jesus’ seeming indifference toward her did not push her away. He would never want to do that. His attitude taught her to trust more surely and to hold tighter. This is the encouragement the hymnist gives when he writes:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
(ELH 434, v. 2)
The Lord smiles upon you just as He smiled upon that poor woman and her daughter. And He gives you just what He gave her: He gives mercy.
The Lord is merciful—full of mercy. He does not give what is deserved. What you and I deserve is punishment for our sins and a hopeless future. Instead we receive the benefits of God’s kindness. He does not push us away from Him, but rather draws us closer. He does this because of the saving work of our Mediator.
Though Jesus may have carried out His earthly work predominately among the Jews, He went to the cross for all people, for Jews and Gentiles. He predicted this many times. Speaking about His work as the Good Shepherd He said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (Jn. 10:16). About His death He declared, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:32). By His death on the cross for all sinners, Jesus broke down “the dividing wall” that separated Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14). He reconciled both to God, “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
What the death of God’s Son means is that you are not outside the workings of His mercy. Your problems are not too big or too small. Your faith is not too weak. You are not worthy in any way of receiving God’s mercy, but He still gives it abundantly to you and to many more who are just as weak and doubtful as you are.
Are You Mercy-Having Material? That is the same as to ask: Are you a sinner? If you are, then you are in need of God’s mercy, and He will give it. Though He may test you, He will not ignore your humble petition for His help. His promise to every person with a broken and contrite heart is this: “[W]hoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37).
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(picture is from a 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 4:26-29
In Christ Jesus, who is both the reason for and the focus of our thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
Only a farmer knows how much work goes into planting and harvesting a crop. In the winter and spring, he prepares his equipment, so that it is ready to go when the weather changes. He purchases seed, watches the forecast, and checks the ground, so planting can begin whenever that window of opportunity opens. Then he watches the growth of the crop and applies time and products as needed to ensure healthy growth. As fall approaches, there is more work to do on equipment. And then the harvest begins, bringing long hours and hopefully a good yield.
But for all the time the farmer puts in, he has no control over the actual growth of the plant. He cannot make a plant do what it naturally does through the right amount of rain and sunshine. This is what Jesus points out in today’s text. He says in St. Mark 4:26-29: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Imagine if every plant had to be tended twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in order for it to grow the fruit or grain that we needed. We would look at produce much differently than we do now. Tremendous resources would be required simply for our survival. But our Lord is happy to do that diligent work for us. He is pleased to provide us our daily bread. The psalmist says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (145:15-16). If God did not apply His blessed work on a growing plant every moment of every day, no plant would survive and come to maturity.
This is not just the case with plants. This is how it was in our formation as well. Even more miraculous than the growth of a plant from a seed, is the growth of a human being from a fertilized egg. How that tiny egg could produce such a complex being is beyond our comprehension. It is a work that only God can do. The growing child is nourished by its mother, but she does not cause the child’s organs to form, its heart to start beating, or its arms and legs to take shape.
Psalm 139 tells who is responsible for these things, “For you [O LORD] formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (vv. 13-16).
The formation of our physical life is a miracle, and so is the formation of our spiritual life. Our spiritual life began with the sowing of a seed, but a seed without any form or shape. God caused the seed of His Word to be sown in our hearts. The ground of our heart was like soil that is rocky and polluted. Nothing good could grow there. But through His Word, God cleansed the soil and cultivated it, planting faith and life where before there was nothing but death.
This is how the kingdom of heaven grows. God has the seed of His Word sown, even in places where we would least expect it to do anything, and the seed sprouts and grows—we know not how. We only know that God’s Word does not return to Him empty, and that it accomplishes the purpose that He intends (Is. 55:11). The person who sows the Word is not important. What is important is that the Word is proclaimed, through which the Holy Spirit does the work. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1Cor. 3:7).
That spiritual growth happens throughout a Christian’s life. The Holy Spirit not only plants the seed of faith in the heart through the Word, but He also nurtures that faith. He brings Jesus to the penitent sinner, who gives Himself as food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and strength for the weak. Just as surely as He carried the burden of all sin to the cross, so He relieves your burdens of guilt, pain, and sorrow and gives you rest.
Through a lifetime of hardships, setbacks, and struggles, the Lord refines and purifies your faith, so that you grow to maturity and are ready to be harvested for heaven on the Last Day. This is when the angels will gather you to the side of your Savior, along with all those who were grown and preserved by His grace. On that day, you will not think to yourself how your salvation was possible because of all your hard work, or because you were such a skilled Christian. The glory will be and is God’s alone.
This is why, whether we are talking about earthly or eternal blessings, we do not give thanks today in the way that so many do. We do not give thanks that we are such hard workers, or that we have earned wonderful things for ourselves, or that we are so gifted and good, so deserving of the things we call our own. No, we “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 107:1, NKJV). He is the one who has blessed us not just every now and then, not just every day, but every moment.
Our Lord produces miracles for us constantly. It is by His miraculous power alone that we have the food, home, clothing, family, and friends that we enjoy. It is by His miraculous power that we have life at all. It is by His miraculous power that we believe in a Savior who has rescued us from the destruction we deserved. And so we are thankful always, Thankful for the Every Moment Miracles, thankful to the God who is good, and whose mercy does endure forever.
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