The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 4:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who is constantly busy and active distributing the gifts of His love, dear fellow redeemed:
We know why the beggar Lazarus in the Holy Gospel for today was laid at the gate of the rich man. It is because the rich man obviously had the means to help him. But having the means to help and having the desire to help are two different things. The rich man did not care about Lazarus. He cared about his fine linens and his great feasts. This man lacked love. It is no surprise to learn that he also lacked faith. We know this because his soul went to hell when he died.
Faith and love go together. Those who have faith have love for others. Those who do not have faith do not have love for others—at least not the kind of love that God requires. The world is very confused about love. The world thinks of love as a feeling, an emotion, the thing that makes me happy. This love is not so much focused outward toward others but inward toward self. We are told to cultivate a self-love, to focus on what is self-fulfilling. And if someone does not show us the love that we require, then it is time to find another who will.
What if God defined love in this way? What if He said that He will love us only if we properly show love to Him? This is what we would think if all we had was the Law of God. The Commandments tell us to perfectly love the true God only, to perfectly honor His name, to perfectly hear and learn His Word. But we have not loved God like this. So what is stopping Him from walking away and never coming back?
He does not walk away from us, because His love for us does not depend on our love for Him. He loved us even in our fallen and rebellious state. In perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible, the apostle John records these words of Jesus about God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16).
God loved the world not because we had earned His love, as though He owed something to us. He loved the world because He is love. And He expressed that love not by making us as comfortable as He can on earth before our sad and hopeless death. He sent His only Son to redeem us, so that we have hope in this life and are saved from eternal suffering in hell.
This is the love that John refers to in today’s text when he says: “God is love.” Some take this to mean that whoever and however and whatever I choose to love, God supports me. Like a 70s hippie, God just wants us to love, man, and there are no rules or restrictions about that love. But characterizing God’s love in this way is false and blasphemous. God does not approve of our sinful behavior. He does not support the destructive things we do that go against His holy Law.
If the love I have for someone or something does not agree with the Ten Commandments, then it is not the love of God. So it is right for a man and a woman to love each other and want to serve one another. But it is not right for them to express that love in a sexual way until they are married. It is right for two men or two women to have love for each other and work on building their relationship. But it is not right for them to pursue a union of flesh. It is right to admire the nice things one’s neighbor has. But it is not right to covet those things and seek to take them.
It is so important that we recognize this. Some Christians have the idea that as long as they say they believe, then it does not matter how they live their life. They don’t like to be told that “Christians shouldn’t,” or “Christians won’t.” “No one has the right to tell me if I’m a Christian or not,” they say. “I know what I am in my heart.” But what if the rich man had called himself a good Christian? Wouldn’t it be natural to expect him to help the beggar Lazarus as God’s Commandments require? Wouldn’t his inactivity make his personal testimony questionable?
If our life is lacking in the love that God requires, and it is filled with a selfish love which God condemns, that calls our faith into question. Then what we say is totally different than how we act. Let’s say you called yourself a Bears fan, but you wore Packers gear, and you rooted for the Packers even when they played the Bears. Could that cause someone to wonder if you really were a Bears fan?
When that kind of inconsistency shows up in the life of a Christian, between what he says and what he does, this indicates a problem. In that case it would be good and loving for another Christian to warn him about the inconsistency, so that his faith is not lost. Jesus clearly tells us that it is possible to lose faith (Luk. 8:4-15). Faith is more than mere knowledge. It is not just a recitation of the facts given in the Bible. Faith grabs hold of the promises of the Gospel. It clings to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus for our righteousness and forgiveness.
Faith receives what God gives by grace. Faith does not express itself defiantly, as though a believer could never be guilty of a sin. Faith expresses itself in humble repentance for sins committed day after day, and it looks to Jesus for salvation. Only Jesus lived the life of love that God requires. He lived a life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. His life of love is why we are acceptable before the Father. His love is credited to us by faith in Him.
Where faith is alive by the grace of God, it is also active. Faith bears fruit in our lives. It is active in a Godly love. “We love because He first loved us,” writes John. This love for others is not self-serving; it is self-sacrificing. It is not pleasure-seeking; it is service-oriented. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not calloused or insensitive. It is patient and kind and generous and forgiving. That is the love God has for us, and it is the love He calls us to have for each other.
But we have not loved in this way, not always. We can all look back (and we don’t have to look very far) to see where we have failed to love like we should. So how confident can we be on the day of judgment? Will we stand before God and say that we loved as He loved us? John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Are you afraid to give an account before God of how you have loved? Are you afraid of His punishment?
The blessed truth is that we will not be judged on the last day by what we have done or failed to do. We will be judged by what Jesus did. His perfect life of love is credited to us by faith. In this way, we are just like a beggar. When a humble beggar receives a gift, he does not think about how well he has begged or how worthy he is to get something. He is simply grateful to receive. He recognizes that he has been given something that he did not have before and had no ability to get.
This is what God has done for us. He has brought to us the perfect work of Jesus—His holy life, His atoning death, His great resurrection. He doesn’t wait for us to prove our worth before He will give it. He reaches down to us through His Word and Sacraments, peels open our sin-clenched hands, and gives us blessing after blessing. He did this for the beggar Lazarus, and He does it for us. He gives us such abundant riches that there is more than enough to share with others.
Suppose someone handed a beggar a million dollars. Wouldn’t it seem harsh if he turned up his nose at his fellow beggar friends and kept his newfound wealth all to himself? In the same way, since we have received such great riches from God, why would we keep them to ourselves? How could we gratefully receive His love, but not want to show love to those around us? A faith that is alive and well by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word cannot help but extend love to others.
This is what you are prepared for in church each week. You come here to be filled up with the love of God. You come to have your bag of faith resupplied. You are filled with God’s forgiveness, His courage, His peace, and His strength. You leave here spiritually rejuvenated, blessed. Having received these gifts, your faith is ready for action. Now you see one neighbor lonely, another sad, another in pain, another racked by guilt. You know what they need. They need the love of God in Christ. So you show your love by listening to them, by caring for them, and especially by pointing them to Jesus and the undying love He has for all.
A Living Faith Is Active in Love. Your faith is alive because it is fixed on Jesus, and Jesus is most certainly alive. And because your faith is alive, it is active in love. The love you show does not have to come from some source or supply of love inside you. That kind of love often runs out. But the perfect love of your Lord for you and for others is never exhausted. As you continue to draw on His love by faith, you will never be without love for your neighbors.
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 painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, who looks upon us not as we deserve but according to His grace, dear fellow redeemed:
We can all think of people who have no business pointing out the sins in others. Their sins are so obvious and clear that they are in no position to judge what anyone else does. Jesus talks about the log in a person’s eye. It’s quite a picture. Imagine a long plank sticking out of someone’s eye. But suppose the person did not notice it was there. He shows up at a party and starts talking about what is wrong with other people—how they look, how annoying they are, how he has everything together, and how they could learn a lot from him.
He does not understand why everyone wants to keep their distance, and why they get so angry whenever he shows up. That eye log is a hindrance to personal interaction! It pops people on the nose and smacks them on the side of the face whenever he turns his head. He complains about everyone blaming him. Why don’t they watch where they are going and give him more space?
It’s a ridiculous scenario. How could a person not know that a big log is sticking out of his eye? How could he not notice that? The problem with this guy is that he does not understand his problem. He thinks everyone around him is at fault for his feelings of rejection and discomfort. He is the victim. If everyone around him changed, he would be happier, and he assumes they would be too.
What Jesus is teaching about here is self-righteousness, about not being aware of one’s own glaring sins. A self-righteous person is a person who believes he is holy through his own efforts. It makes sense that Jesus would warn the Pharisees and scribes about this because they thought they were right with God through their keeping of the law. They did not realize how far they had fallen short. They were very prideful.
But Jesus did not speak the words of today’s text to the Pharisees and scribes. He spoke them to “His disciples” (Luk. 6:20), to those who believed in Him and followed Him. He told these disciples to take the logs out of their own eyes. He even called them “hypocrites”! This shows that Jesus was not afraid to criticize His followers. But He wasn’t doing it out of spite; it was out of love.
Jesus wanted His followers to see their own weakness and to understand the sinful condition of all descendants of Adam and Eve. He could speak in this way because He was without sin. He had been conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and was therefore free of original sin. He fully understood temptation to sin, but He committed no sin Himself.
He told His disciples to guard against the self-righteousness that was part of their sinful nature. They needed to hear the condemning words of the law, so that they would be humbled and cry out for God’s grace. They needed to see that they were no better than anyone else around them, either the Jews or the Gentiles.
The same goes for us. We are no better than anyone else, but the devil and our sinful nature try to convince us that we are. They tempt us to measure our righteousness by how much holier we are than others. But it isn’t a fair comparison. We typically do not look at others the same way that we look at ourselves. We see their sins more clearly than we see our own sins. We are much more ready to overlook our faults than the faults of others.
So it might be easy for me to justify telling a lie, but I come down harshly on others who do the same. Or I might be critical of a mess someone made, but I am totally unwilling to acknowledge my own messes. Self-righteousness is holding someone’s feet to the fire for a $100 debt, while being unconcerned about your own $100,000 debt. Self-righteousness is being eager to offer criticism but being totally unwilling to receive criticism.
Our self-righteousness is the reason Jesus reminds us to “be merciful,” to “judge not,” to “condemn not,” to “forgive,” and to “give.” He wants us to be humble and regard others as better than ourselves (Phi. 2:3). He wants us to look into the mirror of His holy law and see our many sins in that reflection. He wants us to repent of these sins and look to Him for forgiveness and for help to love our neighbors.
But showing love to our neighbors does not mean ignoring their sin altogether or confirming them in their sin. One of the most-quoted Bible passages in our day is: “Judge not.” Another version of this is the statement: “Only God can judge me.” These phrases are usually brought out when a person does not want to be questioned for his behavior or lifestyle choices. So what can you say when someone throws your words of caution or warning back in your face?
Let’s say that you find out your co-worker has been stealing from your employer. You call him on it, and he responds, “Who do you think you are? Are you so perfect? I thought Jesus said not to judge other people!” What do you say? Maybe his point sounds valid, and you let the issue go. But how is that loving to your co-worker, much less to your employer? A good way forward is to accept what your co-worker says without approving of the sin. You could say, “You’re right. I’m not perfect, far from it. I’ve sinned as much as anyone I know. But that does not mean I have to go along with something that is wrong or act like it isn’t happening.”
If your neighbors think you are criticizing them because you believe you are so good, they will avoid you like the people avoiding the guy at the party with the log in his eye. But if they see your humble spirit and know that you care about them, they will be much more ready to listen to what you say. They might not accept your criticism right away. They might even be angry with you. But in time they hopefully will see that you said what you did out of love for them.
Our goal in warning and correcting others is not to elevate ourselves in their eyes, as though they should be more like us. Our goal is to point them to Jesus. Jesus is the one solution to our problem of self-righteousness and sin. If we think we are so good compared to others, we should try comparing ourselves to Jesus. Then we see that our righteousness is nothing. We have not come close to loving as He loved and sacrificing as He sacrificed.
Our righteousness compared to His is like the light of a match compared to the light of the sun. Our righteousness—if it is truly righteousness—can light up just a tiny corner of this dark world. The light of His righteousness fills the earth and the heavens. His holy life under the law was so pure, so flawless, that it was able to cover over the unrighteousness of all sinners.
This perfect holiness was placed upon you when you were baptized, and it continues to cover you now. What good is it to keep a tally of your own good deeds or compare your life with others when Jesus’ righteousness is yours? We would rather lose all glory and honor in the world, all recognition and fame, than to lose Jesus’ righteousness. He is our perfection that the law demands. He is the fulfillment of all righteousness for us.
He is also the atonement for our sins. We have not always been merciful and forgiving and generous. We have not always been humble in our dealings with others. We have not always perceived the log in our own eye. But Jesus, with clear vision and perfect focus, walked the way of the cross for us.
He had no log in His eye, but He did have one on His back as He made His way to Golgotha. He was nailed to that log—the cross with all our transgressions—and He died for the sins of all, for the self-righteous, the prideful, and the unrepentant. By the shedding of His blood, Jesus atoned for every single one of your sins and mine. God the Father poured out the full measure of His wrath on His Son, so that the good measure of His grace and forgiveness would be “pressed down, shaken together, running over” and “put into [our] lap.”
We need this forgiveness every day because we continue to sin against our neighbors. We sin against them by hoping for their harm and failing to offer them our help. There is something in our eye, just as there is something in every sinner’s eye. But the Lord’s absolution, His free forgiveness, removes the logs and specks from our eyes. His grace clears up our vision, so that we see Jesus and everything He did to save us.
Seeing Jesus more clearly also helps us to see our neighbors more clearly. Our neighbors need mercy like we need mercy. They need forgiveness like we need forgiveness. They need help like we need help. And the Lord is eager to give these blessings to everyone. He blesses them through our efforts, and He often causes those blessings to return to us in good measure.
Jesus’ command to love our neighbor more and better than we have is hard for us to hear. It is painful to have the logs of self-righteousness removed from our eye. But He does this so that we look away from ourselves and any good things we might do and look toward Him. In Him we will always find righteousness, salvation, and the strength to live for His glory.
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 Parable of the Mote and the Beam” by Ottmar Elliger the Younger, 1666-1735)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who counts our kindnesses toward our neighbor as having been done for Him (Mt. 25:45), dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” was shocking to the lawyer. The only individuals in Jesus’ example who acted like they would be expected to act were the robbers. The robbers did not care if the man they attacked lived or died. They just wanted whatever clothes or possessions he had. They did what selfish criminals do.
The priest and the Levite did not do what was expected. They belonged to the “clergy class” of the Israelites. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what should be done for a neighbor in need. But they passed by the man lying half dead by the road as though he was not even there! They had their reasons, no doubt. This was dangerous country. Maybe the man only appeared to be injured. Maybe this was a trap to lure them in. Besides, what could they do for this man if he really was seriously injured? There were no cell phones to call for help. Probably someone else would be coming along soon who would be more qualified to assist him. However they justified their decision, these church workers did not do what they should have done.
The Samaritan also acted unexpectedly, but not in the same way as the priest and Levite. Many would have understood if the Samaritan passed by this Jewish man. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along. For this Samaritan, coming across a wounded Jewish man was something like coming across a wounded enemy on the battlefield. Three things could be done in this situation: kill him, ignore him, or help him.
You also have some choices when you come into contact with neighbors you have known for a while, or neighbors you are meeting for the first time. According to the Bible’s definition, your neighbor is anyone around you, anyone you interact with. The neighbors you have most frequent contact with are the ones that live with you in your home. These neighbors are in a position to share your best moments with you and your worst. They can be the objects of your love and affection, but they can also be the recipients of your impatience and unkindness.
Besides the neighbors in your home, you come into contact with other neighbors on a daily basis. Your classmates and co-workers are your neighbors. The people you share the road with and pass by in the store are your neighbors. The friends you communicate with on social media are your neighbors. It is relatively easy to be nice to our neighbors when they are nice to us. But what about when our neighbors act like our enemies? What should we do when they go out of their way to criticize us, or jump in line ahead of us, or attack our beliefs and values?
The last seven Commandments are summarized with, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These Commandments refer to all your neighbors, not just the ones you like. Jesus says that your enemies are your neighbors too. “Love your enemies,” He says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Your love for your neighbors is not based on what they do for you but on what you are called to do for them. The dying man on the side of the road could not do anything for the Samaritan man. But that did not sway the Samaritan. He saw a neighbor in need, and “he had compassion” on him.
When you come across a neighbor, whether he is polite or ill-mannered, selfless or self-centered, thoughtful or impetuous, your job is to have compassion, to show love, to be kind. Jesus never tells us to treat people like they deserve. He said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12).
In the home a husband might wish that his wife didn’t nag him so much. “After all,” he thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say that a wife should submit to her husband?” His wife might wish that he paid more attention to her and the family. “After all,” she thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say a husband should be willing to sacrifice even his own life for his wife?” Both are focusing on what their neighbor should be doing for them. But it is not the husband’s job to make his wife submit to him. And it is not the wife’s job to make her husband sacrifice for her. When a husband out of love sacrifices for his wife, and when a wife out of love submits to her husband, then the marriage functions as God intended it, and the home is blessed (Eph. 5:22-33).
If you view your spouse or your children or anyone else around you as a burden and a hindrance to your happiness, then you will be like the priest and Levite who passed by a neighbor in need. But if you see your neighbors with eyes of compassion, as those who need mercy and love, then you will see them as God sees them. Then you will see them as God sees you.
God saw you and all sinners in a condition much like the man who had been robbed and beaten on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. He saw you stripped of all righteousness, battered by your sin, and dying. He could not bear to see you in this state. So He sent down His beloved Son to save you.
Jesus gave Himself to be attacked in your place. He took the beating you deserved for your sins. Isaiah writes that “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:5). The holy blood flowing from His wounds brought about your healing. A beautiful stanza in one of our hymns about death says, “I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds; / There pardon for my sins abounds. / Yea, Jesus’ blood and righteousness / My jewels are, my glorious dress. / In these before my God I’ll stand / When I shall reach the heav’nly land” (ELH 530, v. 1).
Through the shedding of His blood, Jesus won forgiveness for sinners. We did nothing to deserve this compassion and grace. We had gotten ourselves into trouble. We had wandered off the safe path. Like foolish sheep, we had gone our own way (Is. 53:6). But the Lord had mercy upon us. Like the Good Samaritan, He began to heal the wounds of our sin by pouring on the oil and wine of His saving Gospel. He brought us into the inn of His Church through the waters of Baptism, and He continues to care for us there through His Word and Sacraments. Jesus’ forgiveness cost Him His life, but it doesn’t cost us anything. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift bestowed on us for our soul’s salvation.
Jesus was motivated to save us totally by His own love. If He waited to save people until they proved their worthiness, no one would be saved. In this, we learn how we should be toward our neighbors. Our love should not wait until our neighbors prove themselves worthy of it. Our Christian love should have no boundaries or limitations. No one has sinned against us more than we sinned against God, and yet He still loves us with a love that cannot be measured.
None of us has loved our neighbors as we should. There have been plenty of times that we left a neighbor lying by the side of the road. Maybe we were too busy with our own plans. Maybe we were tired of dealing with our neighbor’s self-inflicted wounds. Maybe we were bitter because our neighbor was not there for us when we were in need. At the time, our action—or inaction—may have seemed justified, but now we regret not being there and trying to help. We cannot make up for these missed opportunities. But we can move forward in grace. Jesus forgives our lack of love toward others.
His love for us is unchanging, and He does not give up on us. He has more opportunities planned for us—opportunities every day, every hour—to show love to our neighbors. But why does He keep entrusting us with the love and care of our neighbors, when we have failed so often? God knows how to accomplish great things even through weak hands and feeble efforts. Through imperfect marriages, He provides stability and security for the family. Through imperfect employees, He provides a vast array of products and services. Through imperfect congregation members and pastors, He provides for the administration of the means of grace.
The love that we show to our neighbors does not come from some storehouse of good inside us. It comes from Him. The Lord uses our mouths, our hands and feet, our talents and abilities to carry out His work of mercy and love in the world. This love has the power to disrupt the regular pattern of sin in the world. The world expects you to look out for yourself first and foremost. But what if in humility you put your neighbor first? Others will probably look at you wide-eyed, like the innkeeper must have looked at the Good Samaritan for going so far out of his way to help a stranger. Then you may have the opportunity to share with them the source of your love.
You love because God first loved you (1Jn. 4:19). You serve because He served you (Mt. 20:28). You sacrifice because He sacrificed Himself for you. Your life of compassion and care for your neighbors is simply a reflection of the greater love God has for you. He is the one who comforts you when you are mistreated by your neighbor. And He is the one who strengthens you to look with compassionate eyes at those around you, so that through you, they also may come to know His undying mercy and love.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(“Parable of the Good Samaritan” painting by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who is “patient and kind,” “does not envy or boast,” and “is not arrogant or rude” (1Cor. 13:4-5), dear fellow redeemed:
Someone who is consistently selfish and mean lacks the credibility to tell others how to be better friends and neighbors to the people around them. It would be easy to dismiss such a person with a quick, “Why don’t you take your own advice?”
But when Jesus says, “Live how I live,” and “Do as I do,” His credibility cannot be questioned. He could speak with authority about moral behavior, because He never committed a sin. Not only did Jesus avoid wrongdoing, He also gladly served His neighbors. His disciple John remarked that if His good deeds were all recorded, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn. 21:25).
Today, we are blessed to hear the account of how Jesus served His disciples the night before His death. He set aside His outer garments, and like a lowly servant would do, He proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples, one by one. The disciples were perplexed about this. What was Jesus doing? This was no job for Him! The others may have verbally questioned this, but only Peter’s protest is given: “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Despite Jesus’ gentle reply that Peter would understand this in time, Peter blurted out, “You shall never wash my feet.”
And why not? Why shouldn’t Jesus wash his feet? Was this below Him? Should His position as esteemed teacher exempt Him from doing the work of a servant? If these things were the case, then Jesus would not really be as humble as He appeared. But high standing does not mean a person no longer has to serve his neighbor. “The greater one is, the meeker he must be” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, p. 268). Jesus considered no one as lower than Himself, even though He was the holy Son of God. He took “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
There He was washing the feet of Judas, who in a matter of hours would betray Him to the Jewish authorities for money. There He was washing the feet of the other disciples who shortly would abandon Him. And there He was washing Peter’s feet, Peter who would vehemently deny that he even knew Jesus before the night was done. Jesus did not wash the feet of these men because they deserved it. He washed their feet because He loved them.
Love compelled Him to clean their dirty feet. And love propelled Him forward to His crucifixion and death. He would go to the cross to atone for the sins of His betrayer and His fearful disciples. He would go to the cross for the Jewish and Gentile leaders who had His “blood on their hands,” blood which no amount of water could wash off (Mt. 27:24). He would go to the cross for every sinner—for every rebel, murderer, adulterer, thief, and liar. What wondrous love is this!
His love did not end at the cross. His love did not stop with, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). His love for sinners continued. He rose from the dead to give them victory over death. Then He commissioned His disciples to share the message of His love with “all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Two thousand years later, His love is still present. It is given you through His Word and Sacraments. You may feel unworthy of His presence, but He is not ashamed to come to you. Are you too dirty to receive Him? Are you embarrassed for Him to see what sins you have done? But that is why He comes.
He comes to wash you. He comes to deal with even your most unpleasant, odorous wrongs, just as He lovingly washed the disciples’ dirty, sweaty feet. This is what He instituted His Sacrament to do, to wash you of your sins. As you bow at the Communion rail, Jesus draws your eye away from your sin, and to His body and His blood. These gifts are “given and shed for you”—why?—“for the remission of sins.” Here, your sins are blotted out. Here, your transgressions are removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), as though they had never been committed.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He says your sins are completely forgiven in the Sacrament? It is hard to believe, since we are such great sinners. But He is a greater Savior, and He does not lie.
If we take His word of forgiveness seriously, as we should, then we should also pay attention to what He told His disciples in today’s text. He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
You would not wish to be regarded like the spoiled child, who is glad to receive gifts and treats from his parents but despises their instruction. This is how people are who are glad to partake of the grace and comfort of Holy Communion, but who do not carry the love of Christ with them away from the rail. They are happy to hear that Jesus forgives them, but they are not about to forgive their neighbor who has wronged them. They are not about to take the humble servant’s role and see how they might better the lives of others, instead of giving the cold shoulder or trying to get revenge.
How often has this played out in your relationships? I am not talking about the times others have treated you poorly, but the times you have treated others poorly. Have you carried out your callings at home, at work, and at church “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”? (Eph. 4:2-3). Have you endeavored to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”? (Gal. 6:10). Have you done what you promise to do in the Lord’s Prayer—forgiven those who have trespassed against you?
This is what it means to love your neighbor. Love means stooping down in service like Jesus did. It means “washing the feet,” so to speak, of those who have betrayed you, lied to you, or hurt you. It means “washing the feet” of those who have been unkind or uncaring. It means “washing the feet” even of those who act like your friends but then abandon you in your hour of greatest need.
That is exactly what was done to Jesus. He knew it was coming, and yet He still loved. He loved the unloving. This kind of sacrificial love is what sets a follower of Jesus apart from an unbeliever. In that same upper room, our Lord said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35).
But that is so hard to do! How can Jesus expect us to love like He did? We cannot find such a storehouse, such strength to love, inside of us. But we can find it in Him. If He could love those who crucified Him, if He could love you and me, He can help us love those who have wronged us in ways great or small. He brings us the strength to do this through His powerful Word and Sacraments. Through these means, He invites us to feast on His grace and to drink deeply of His love. Then His love enters us and enlivens our hearts and moves us to do for others as He does for us. “We Love, Because He First Loved Us” (1Jn. 4:19).
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(portion of painting by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1267-1337)
The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:31-46
In Christ Jesus, who will come from the right hand of the Father to judge the living and the dead and bestow the crown of life on all who confess His name, dear fellow redeemed:
In the Judgment Day scene that Jesus describes, it is obvious that He is the one in charge. He is the one asking the questions; He is the one calling the shots. He will not receive the great and powerful people of the world like one dignitary or government official might receive another. Jesus will be seated on His throne as the unquestionable Lord, the King of the universe. The angels will gather all people to Him like herdsmen gather their livestock. All will be brought before Him for judgment—the righteous to be sent to heaven and the unrighteous to hell.
Jesus will come then in a very different way than He came before. Before, He came in meekness; then He will come in power. Before, He came in humility; then He will come in glory. The difference really is striking. On the Last Day, everyone will know that Jesus is the Lord of all. But when He first arrived in the flesh, He came as the Servant of all. This was just as He planned. Jesus told His disciples that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mt. 20:28).
But in today’s text, Jesus seems to say more about our service to Him than His service to us. He says He will put everyone at His right hand who gave Him food when He was hungry, drink when He was thirsty, a home when He was wandering, and so on. But He will put at His left hand everyone who did not give Him food or drink or home or clothing when He needed them. So which category do you fit in? Have you provided service to Jesus in these ways, or not? No doubt your response is the same as the people both at Jesus’ right hand and at His left: “Lord, when did we see You in each of these situations of need?”
Jesus’ answer is: By serving (or not serving) “the least” of His brothers, you served (or did not serve) Him. Who are “the least” that Jesus refers to? Who else could it be but the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned? “The least” of Jesus’ brothers is your neighbor in need. Your neighbor has all sorts of needs, some of the same ones you have, but other ones too. Some of the people you come in contact with are very wealthy, while others are poor—each station having its own challenges. Some are in good health, while others are afflicted with disease and weakness. Some have a stable home life, while others struggle to make it through each day.
God has given you special work to do. No one has exactly the same neighbors as you have. No one has exactly the same gifts, exactly the same abilities. No one is as well-positioned to help your neighbors as you. But what can you do for the poor when you haven’t got money to spare? What can you do for the mentally troubled when you don’t have the training? What can you do for the children in a turbulent home?
You can’t make every situation better and every problem go away. But you can love your neighbors by showing kindness to them and helping them, starting with the neighbors in your own home—your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children. They are your closest neighbors, who are constantly in need of food and drink and shelter and clothing and care. Along with that, you can pray for them knowing that God always hears and answers prayer.
But you haven’t always done this, or at least haven’t done it perfectly. You have not always helped the neighbor who needed it. Sometimes you have avoided your neighbor out of anger, selfishness, fear, prejudice, or pride. Instead of treating your neighbor how you would want to be treated, you have often treated your neighbor how you think they deserve. So when Jesus returns on Judgment Day, how could you and I ever hope to be placed at His right hand?
If salvation depended on a perfect attitude and service toward our neighbors, no one would be placed at Jesus’ right hand. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). But your salvation does not rely on your works. Jesus is not teaching that here, nor does He teach it anywhere. Salvation always and only depends on Him.
Jesus’ humble work throughout the time of His public ministry shows how He fulfilled the law of perfect love toward neighbor for you. He considered no one below Him. Each hurting person was His neighbor, whom He was ready to help. For instance, He healed a man with a deformed hand (Mk. 3:1-5), He gave strength to an invalid who had been all but ignored for thirty-eight years (Jn. 5:2-8), He cleansed a leprous man by reaching out and touching him (Mt. 8:2-3), He cast out debilitating demons (Mk. 5:1-13, Lk. 13:10-13), He fed the hungry (Jn. 6:1-14), and He raised the dead (Mk. 5:35-43, Lk. 7:11-15, Jn. 11:38-44).
Then there was the company Jesus kept. He chose unimpressive Galileans to be in His inner circle of disciples. He spoke with people who were rejected by the cultural and religious elite. He had lunch with the hated tax collectors (Lk. 19:1-10), and He visited with prostitutes (Lk. 7:36-50). He did not join sinners in their sin, but He gladly spoke with any who would listen. He told the chief priests and elders that the tax collectors and the prostitutes would go into the kingdom of God before them, because those sinners repented and believed God’s Word (Mt. 21:31-32). Jesus even helped Gentiles who came to Him (Mt. 8:5-13, Mt. 15:21-28)
This hardly scratches the surface of all the kind things Jesus did. The Apostle John wrote that if each of them were recorded, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn. 21:25). For all the different opinions expressed about Jesus, I have never heard anyone describe Him as “stuck up” or “self-centered.” It is obvious that Jesus was a good person, and one who treated the people around Him with love and compassion. But if all we remembered about Jesus was that He was a worker of miracles and a nice man, we would miss the primary purpose of His coming. He did not come simply to help people with their physical and earthly needs; He came to save people for heaven.
Jesus made no distinction between the good and the bad, as if such a distinction could be made among the spiritually dead. He offered His perfect life for everyone, for every person that had ever lived or ever would live. He suffered and died for drug addicts and doctors, criminals and law enforcement officials, for the impoverished and the wealthy. He died for dictators, Communists, Socialists, Capitalists, Republicans, and Democrats. He died for Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Buddhists, and Hindus. He died for Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox, and the Lutherans. All of these were His neighbors in need.
By nature, all people are spiritually lost, so Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went looking for them. He pursued them in the dark and dangerous places they had wandered. He entered the devil’s lair, that wolf, who had the sheep imprisoned. Then Jesus offered up His own spotless life in their place. He took the fall for their weakness and their wandering. He paid for their transgressions. Jesus gladly gave Himself for the greatest and the least. His righteousness was sufficient for all, and His holy blood blotted out every sin.
That means He offered up Himself in your place. Your sins are not too much to be forgiven. No wicked deed that you have done is greater than God’s grace. “[W]here sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). You are not so far below Jesus that He would overlook you. He stooped down to your level and shouldered all of your sin. He led you out of the darkness of condemnation into the light of His never-changing love. No matter how insignificant and unworthy you may feel, Jesus knows you. He eagerly sought you out to bring you into His fold, and to serve you daily through the means of grace.
The perfect love that God demands of you toward Him and your neighbor is supplied to you by Jesus. Everything is yours by faith in Him. This is why on the Last Day Jesus will look upon you at His right hand and will say to you, “Come… inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The kingdom is yours because you are blessed by God the Father. He chose you for salvation, brought you to faith in Jesus through His Word, and keeps you in the faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. This faith receives every good thing you need.
Your faith is also active in bearing fruit for others. Because you are converted by God, released from the grip of sin, Satan, and death, you can freely serve “the least” who are around you. As you serve your neighbor, it is God whose mercy and goodness are at work through you, which is why the glory is all His.
Each of your neighbors has unique needs, but the need they all share is the need for Jesus. Like you, they need His righteous life applied to them to cover their sin, and they need His cleansing blood to wash away their guilt. They need to hear the sweet message that Jesus Gladly Serves the Least, because He does. He came to serve you and all sinners, and to bring you and all who cling to Him by faith into the blessed kingdom of heaven.
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The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who “loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2), dear fellow redeemed:
Seeing the destruction caused by recent wildfires and hurricanes in our country is heart-breaking. But in the midst of these great difficulties, it is heart-warming to hear stories of neighbors helping neighbors. There are people who spend their days assisting in clean-up efforts in their communities, even though they themselves have lost their homes and possessions. Many others have donated toward relief efforts, with contributions for relief in Texas likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars. At times like these, reference is often made to “the natural goodness in people.” Others comment that their “faith in humanity” has been restored. In a society sharply divided by political and religious differences, these moments of charity and kindness among neighbors are worth celebrating.
But it is not the good in a person that causes them to do these things. It is God. He is behind all the assistance and charity and love. It is no stretch to say that if God did not put His moral law in every human heart, no trouble, hardship, or pain experienced by my neighbor would cause me to lift a finger to help him. But because God has given this inner law, my conscience tells me that it is not okay to ignore a neighbor in need. It is my moral obligation to help as far as I am able.
If you had to sum up God’s Commandments in one word, that word would be “love.” This is just what Scripture says. It says that “[L]ove is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). In the first three Commandments, God tells us to love Him, since He is our Creator and Savior. The last seven Commandments are about how His love should be shared with others: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 9).
But who is my neighbor? This is what a lawyer asked Jesus. It is an honest question, and yet the lawyer had ulterior motives. He asked the question, we are told, out of a desire “to justify himself.” He already thought he had fulfilled God’s requirement of love. Jesus answered him with an illustration. He described a man traveling on the road to Jericho (a journey which thankfully is not so treacherous around here). The man was attacked by robbers and left to die.
Along came a priest, one of his countrymen. Surely this “holy man” would help! But turning his eyes away from the dying man, he continued on his way. Another temple worker, a Levite, did the same thing. They acted like he wasn’t even there. Their plans were too important. They would not be delayed. No doubt someone else more qualified than they would come by soon. Perhaps they even calmed their consciences by saying that at least they would pray for this man. So it isn’t as though they did nothing….
There are many reasons we can come up with why we shouldn’t help a neighbor in need. We might tell ourselves that we are in no position to help. Others can provide much better assistance. Besides, I don’t want my neighbor to get comfortable with handouts. He should learn to work harder and help himself. And where was he when I needed help? What goes around comes around….
As logical as these reasons may seem, they are wrong. If I will not show love to my neighbor until it is most convenient, or until he has shown himself worthy of my love, then I probably won’t end up helping him at all. But God commands love for neighbor without any qualifications. Your neighbor, He says, is anyone around you, anyone whose life intersects in some way with yours. Your neighbor is the child who misbehaves and talks back to you. Your neighbor is the boss who unfairly criticizes you. Your neighbor is the teacher who blames you for something your classmate did. Your neighbor is the community member who doesn’t care how his plans affect yours. Jesus tells us to love all our neighbors, even the ones who treat us badly.
But how is that even possible? How can God expect you to “love your enemies” (Mt. 5:44)? A lot depends on the perspective you have toward another. If you imagine that their primary goal in life is to make you feel miserable, and that they are constantly plotting to harm you, it is going to be difficult to have kind thoughts about them. Then your mind will be occupied with revenge, how you might return evil for evil.
But what if the disagreement between two neighbors started with a misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up? What if your neighbor thought you were attacking her before she ever attacked you? And could it be that the unkind words your neighbor directed toward you, were actually the result of other troubles going on in his life? This could help you look at your neighbor not as an enemy, but as someone who needs compassion.
Or maybe it’s true – maybe your neighbor does hate you. This was likely the situation between the man on the road from Jerusalem and the Samaritan who helped him. The Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. The Jews accused the Samaritans of being godless, and the Samaritans accused the Jews of being self-righteous. So how is it that the Samaritan decided to help the man by the side of the road? Well he certainly could not control how the dying man thought about him, but he could control how he thought about the dying man. He decided to be merciful.
This is a picture of Jesus. He found us beaten up by sin, stripped of any righteousness, dying the death we deserved. We were His enemies. We broke His law. But He didn’t wait for us to be worthy of His love. He freely gave it. He had compassion on us. He bound up our sin wounds by taking those stripes on Himself. He brought us spiritual health through His Word and Sacraments, and continues to strengthen us by those same means. He loved even the most undeserving of neighbors, which is what He calls you and me to do as well.
But loving and helping your neighbors does not mean giving them whatever they want. If they want you to join them in promoting or defending sinful behavior, it would be wrong for you to do this. Or if they ask you to give them one of your treasured possessions, or even your home, you do not have to do this. The Lord tells you to be generous and to share, but He does not command you to give away everything you have. Your neighbor is in no way entitled to your property, your possessions, your spouse or children. In fact, God commands us to help our neighbor keep these things.
What you are obligated to do for your neighbor is to help him have what he needs, more than what he wants. And the greatest need your neighbor has is Jesus. You can desire nothing better for your neighbor than that he repents of his sins and believes in Jesus alone as his Savior. This is our greatest treasure. It is our life and comfort and hope. With Jesus, you can stand to lose all of your earthly possessions, because they are only temporary. In Him, you are assured of the riches of heaven, which will never pass away.
But how can you Give Your Neighbor Jesus? There are two main ways, and neither of them works well without the other. The first way to give your neighbors Jesus is to be kind and merciful toward them. Take an interest in their lives. Listen to their problems. Lift them up when they are down. Offer a helping hand. Encourage them. Cheer for them. Call them up or stop by to let them know you are thinking about them. In these ways, you will gain your neighbor’s trust and respect, and you will probably find a friend to help you in your difficulties. When you show love in these ways, you are really sharing God’s love. He is the one working through you. John writes that “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1Jn. 4:12).
But if your concern for your neighbor goes no further than assisting with physical and emotional needs, you have failed to give the thing that is most needed. Above all else, your neighbor needs to hear the Gospel. This is the second major way to give your neighbor Jesus. Your neighbor needs to know that a loving God watches over her and that He has sent His only Son to redeem her, so that she may live eternally in heaven. All people are dying just like the man by the side of the road. All of them need the salvation and healing that come only through Jesus.
And just as love for your neighbor falls short if you do not take the opportunity to share the Gospel, it also fails if the Gospel message is not accompanied by kind and loving actions. For example, you may have had the experience of a complete stranger approaching you in a store or the mall to ask if you know Jesus as your personal Savior. It is as though the message-bringer is just trying to fulfill a quota. He doesn’t spend the time to get to know you or find out how he can assist you. He just throws the Gospel in your face and hopes it sticks. That approach is rarely if ever effective in bringing about conversion. It turns people off to Christianity.
But when your neighbor has come to know your dedication and care for him, and sees the sacrifices you have made to serve him, he will be much more likely to listen when you share the message of Jesus. This is the outcome Jesus speaks about when He says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).
This light of love does not always shine brightly in your life. You remember many times that you ignored a neighbor in need. But Jesus does not pass you by, bruised and battered by a guilty conscience. He forgives you for the times that sin and selfishness overcame you. He gives you, His neighbor, exactly what you need, which is His perfect love and His perfect righteousness. With these things as your possession and your motivation, your neighbor will not fail to receive through you good things from God.
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