The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, who invites you to bring your concerns to the heavenly Father in prayer (Phi. 4:6) and to “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1Pe. 5:7), dear fellow redeemed:
What’s better: getting a raise and a promotion at work or getting your sins forgiven at church? Having expendable income to buy whatever you please, or having immeasurable grace to cover all your sins? Seeing a healthy return on your investments which promises a secure financial future, or seeing the Word and Sacraments continue to be administered at your church which promises the continued outpouring of God’s rich blessings?
We know the right answers to these questions, but the way we prioritize and live our life is not always consistent with them. We struggle with our devotion to the things of this world. We don’t want to give up the well-made plans we have made for this life. We imagine we can keep both the world and the Word close. But Jesus draws a line in the sand: “You cannot serve God and [mammon]—God and money/property/possessions.”
Who would ever “serve” these earthly things? The word means to be a slave to something. We are enslaved to mammon when the opportunities, treasures, and pleasures of the world mean more to us than the promises and gifts of God. We are enslaved to mammon when losing earthly things is our greatest concern and gaining earthly things causes our greatest joy. But mammon cannot forgive sins. It cannot deliver us from the devil. And it cannot save us from death.
Those who set their hearts on mammon—on these temporary things—are always anxious. They have put their trust in something that can slip through their fingers or be wrenched from their hands. But what else is there? Mammon is the only thing we can hope to control. That is the whole problem. We try to have control over things that are out of our control. We try to control what belongs to God.
God gives us these earthly things. They are meant for our use and enjoyment. They are not meant to take God’s place. Mammon does not love you; God loves you. Mammon does not take care of you; God does. Mammon makes no promises about your today or your tomorrow. God promises to take care of you and provide for all your needs since you are His own child.
Your status as God’s beloved child is the reason Jesus says, “do not be anxious about your life.” Now if you tell someone you are worried about something in the present or in the future, you don’t want to hear them say, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about. Just stop worrying about that.” Someone telling you to “stop your worrying” does not make your worry go away. But Jesus says more than that here. He tells us why we have no reason to be worried.
He says we don’t have to worry about what we will eat or drink, because our heavenly Father provides for the birds, and we are more valuable than they are. He says we don’t have to worry about clothing, because if the Lord arrays the flowers in beautiful clothing, He will most certainly clothe us. He says that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, so there is no need to be anxious about tomorrow.
But a lot of bad things could happen tomorrow. We could become seriously ill or injured. Our home and all our possessions could be destroyed. Enemies could attack us and cause terrible damage. That’s what happened twenty years ago this weekend. Terrorists took control of planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and would have flown another into the White House or the Capitol building. Many lives were lost. Our nation was drawn into war. Something like this could happen again today or tomorrow. Terrible things may be in store for us. How could we not be anxious?
A couple years before the attacks of 9/11, there were people who stockpiled goods and moved into bunkers because they thought the dawning of the year 2000 would usher in an apocalypse. We saw similar behaviors at the start of the 2020 pandemic when people stockpiled supplies and braced for the worst. We still feel anxiety about COVID-19 and its new variants. Our future and the future of our loved ones is uncertain. We don’t know what could happen tomorrow.
And yet Jesus says, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” It sounds too simplistic. It sounds like unfounded optimism. Things are bad today. Why should we be hopeful about tomorrow? Jesus does not tell us to be hopeful because nothing bad will happen to us in the future. He is not a prosperity preacher. He doesn’t tell us that we’re going to be really happy with all the success that is about to come our way. He doesn’t say that our worst days are behind us and our best days are ahead.
He says, “do not be anxious about tomorrow,” because He is the God of tomorrow. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but He does. It is better that we don’t know. If we knew what tomorrow would bring—both the good and the bad—our joys would be muted and our sorrows would be magnified. In His wisdom and mercy, God has chosen to keep us blind about the future. He does this so that we put all our hope, all our trust, and all our confidence in Him and not in our own preparations or efforts.
Perhaps you’ve played the game where someone blindfolds you, and you have to follow their verbal instructions to avoid bumping into things or going where you don’t want to be. I saw a variation of this game in which a narrow, winding pathway was edged by mousetraps ready to spring on every side and at every turn. There could be great perils and troubles in our future, but we are not called to worry about those things. We are called to listen to the voice of our merciful Lord and trust His promises.
But trust demands that we give up control or at least the sense of control. Trust means that we place our needs for today and tomorrow into the hands of another. It is hard for us to trust the Lord in this way. We remember the times that we trusted Him, and things did not seem to go well for us. We trusted Him to help us, but we failed. We trusted Him to fix our problems, but they only got worse. We have all asked this question before in our minds if not out loud, “Is God trustworthy—is He worthy of my trust?”
The answer to that question is found in the womb of a poor woman, on a Roman cross, and in an empty tomb. We don’t judge God’s trustworthiness by how well He has delivered what we want. We judge His trustworthiness by how well He has delivered what He promises and what we need. God made a promise after Adam and Eve sinned that He would send a Savior to crush Satan’s head and deliver mankind from sin and death. God kept that promise when thousands of years later, He sent His eternal Son to be born of the virgin Mary.
Jesus was born under the Law, so that He might keep it in every way where we have failed and sinned against God, and fulfill it perfectly for you and me. And then He went to the cross carrying all our sins, so that His innocent suffering and death would make atonement for all of our wrongs. Jesus knew that suffering was in His future even as He said, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” He was not blind to the hellish punishment He would have to endure, but He still went forward. He faced that tomorrow, the tomorrow of His death. His love for His Father kept Him from turning back. His love for you pushed Him toward all those horrors and pains.
But after His death, there was a tomorrow of rest. And then there was a tomorrow of victory over death. Jesus was in perfect control of each tomorrow, just as He is in control of all your tomorrows. No one took His life; He laid it down of His own accord. In John 10 He said, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (v. 18). And that’s what He did to win salvation for you and for me. He died for our sins and rose again to secure eternal victory over our death.
You do not have power over your sin and death, but He does. You do not have control over your today and tomorrow, but He does. And He is not anxious about tomorrow. You will not face anything tomorrow that He can’t handle. He has already defeated sin, death, and the devil for you! He is not going to forget about you. He is not going to leave you to suffer alone. He suffered for you, and He now joins you in your suffering to strengthen you. He will get you through whatever sickness, pain, or trouble that may come your way.
He is the solution for your anxiety and worry. When you enter His house and kneel or stand before Him at the altar rail, you can bring all your troubles, all your pains, all your uncertainties and hand them over to Him. And in return, He will give you peace—the peace of forgiveness, the peace of reconciliation with God, the peace of knowing that your future is secure in Him even when your life on this earth comes to an end.
You do not need to know what is going to happen later today or tomorrow. What you need to know is that your merciful and gracious Lord is The Keeper of Today and Tomorrow, and He Cares for You. As the psalmist says: “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psa. 121:5-8).
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 stained glass at Jerico church)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, who comes to cleanse us of our sins through His powerful Word of forgiveness and life, dear fellow redeemed:
“I know things have been tough for you lately, and you haven’t been able to do what you usually do. I’d like to help you with something, and I don’t want you to say ‘No’ until you’ve thought it over for a bit—I want to come over and clean your house.” At first, you didn’t think you could accept such an offer from your friend. It would be too much! You feel embarrassed how much things had slipped at home since you became ill. But you also realize how much you could use the help. You accept the kind offer.
So your friend shows up a few days later with a dedicated cleaning crew. You smile through tears and thank them for coming. “We’ll have the house clean in no time!” they say. You open the door and wait for them to go in, but no one does. They are busy unpacking ladders and hoses and brushes. They start spraying and scrubbing the outside of the house! Of course you are grateful for their efforts, but the real problem was not on the outside—you hadn’t even been thinking of that. The work that really needed to be done was on the inside.
On the outside, the city of Jerusalem looked great. It stood on top of a tall hill, tall enough to be called “Mount Zion.” It was surrounded by sturdy walls. It was one of the last cities conquered by King David (2Sa. 5:6-9), and it impressed him so much that he turned it into the capital city of Judah. It was here that David built a great palace, and it was here that his son Solomon built the temple of the LORD.
When the crowds traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover at the time of today’s text, they looked upon the city with awe. “Look how strong and majestic it is! Look at the magnificent gates and the glistening temple!” But the city was not as strong as it appeared. It was full of pride and selfishness and spiritual decay. Its religious leaders hated Jesus and cared only about their own standing and power. If Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover, they were ready to pounce on Him and kill Him (Joh. 11:45-12:19).
Jesus did not gasp with delight when He laid eyes on this city. Instead He wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” Because of its unbelief, the city would be utterly destroyed. Its people did not know the time of their visitation. Many had rejected Jesus the promised Messiah, the Son of God incarnate, who had come to save all sinners. The city looked great on the outside, but inside the walls was a different story.
The same was true for the temple. It was the holy habitation of God, where He visited His people with His grace and received their sacrifices and prayers. The Jewish people were proud of the temple like you are proud of your church. It was a beautiful building. Pious people streamed in and out of it day after day bringing their sacrifices and offerings. Everything seemed great. But not to Jesus.
When He came to the city on Palm Sunday, He took a look inside the temple (Mar. 11:11). What He saw kindled a righteous anger inside of Him. The temple courts had been turned into a marketplace! There sat money-changers and sellers, calling to the Jews who had recently arrived at Jerusalem: “This is the place to exchange your money! I give you the best rates! You’ll find no better pigeons for this price!”
The next day Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold and to overturn the tables of the money-changers (Mar. 11:15). “My house shall be a house of prayer,” He cried, “but you have made it a den of robbers!” The temple was for the Word of God, not for worldly commerce. It was the place for spiritual gain, not for greed.
This wasn’t the first time Jesus cleaned out the temple like this. He had done the same thing three years earlier (Joh. 2:13-17). So we see that the problem hadn’t gone away. The sellers and money-changers had returned. The location was too ideal. The potential for profit was too great. They weren’t going to pass up a chance like this. And weren’t they really providing a service to the people of God by conducting their business there? They tried to justify the very practices that God condemned, and the religious leaders nodded their approval.
The problem in the temple reflected the problem of these leaders. The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees thought they were righteous, and most of the Jewish people agreed. But the same week that Jesus wept over the city and cleaned out the temple, He said to those prideful religious leaders: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…. For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mat. 23:25,27).
Can the same thing be said about you and me? The people around you can see what you are like on the outside, and they probably think you are a good person. You’re nice and thoughtful and helpful. And of course those are all good things; those things are important. How we look on the outside matters. But that isn’t all that matters. How we are on the outside cannot make us right before God. How we are on the outside cannot save us. So how do things look on the inside?
Like it was for Jerusalem and for the temple and for the religious leaders, what’s happening inside us is not always so good. Inside we harbor bitterness and anger and dark thoughts toward others. We have lustful desires and greed and often feel discontent about our station in life. We don’t want to serve our neighbors like God calls us to do. We don’t want to put others first. Sometimes we just want to walk away from our responsibilities and focus on what we want.
We hide these thoughts from others. We don’t like to let people see what’s really happening on the inside—the selfishness, the anger, the pride. We are good at covering these things up and making everything appear neat and tidy in our lives. But our inner turmoil, our inner uncleanness, is not hidden from God. He sees all. He knows all. That’s why He sent His eternal Son down to earth to become a Man.
Jesus came to save us from our outward sins of word and action and the inner sins of our mind and heart. To be our Savior, He had to be a spotless Substitute. He had to be perfectly holy on the outside and on the inside. And He was. He never sinned, not even in His thoughts. He perfectly obeyed the will of His Father; He perfectly kept His holy law.
And that perfect obedience led Him to the cross to die for the sins of all people. Whatever your sins may be, even the secret ones that you have harbored in the depths of your inner being—Jesus died for them all. He shed His holy blood to wash away all the evil things you have done, said, and imagined.
This is what Jesus went to Jerusalem to accomplish. He knew that many there would reject Him. He knew the horrible things waiting for Him behind those impressive walls. But He still went forward. He entered that city to give Himself for the sinners there. He came to die for their sins, even their sin of putting Him on the cross. “Father, forgive them,” He said, “for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
Jesus came to forgive. He came to cleanse people of their sins, inside and out. And this is what He still comes to do today. He comes into our church through His Word, warning us of judgment if we continue in our sins and refuse to repent. Through the law He exposes our sins, all the darkness and doubt we have allowed to linger inside and cloud our thinking. He points out our faulty plans and priorities. He comes to clear out the clutter, so that the house of our worries and sins is prepared for much better things.
He turns this unclean house into a place fit for His holy presence. He comes to abide with us with His grace and forgiveness. He comes to apply His cleansing blood to each and every one of our sins. He comes to cover us in His perfect righteousness. You and I won’t be judged by what we have done or failed to do on the outside, or by what we have at times allowed to fester on the inside. We will be judged by what Jesus accomplished for us.
By faith in Him, we are credited with His holy life. By faith in Him, we are saved from our sin and eternal punishment which He cancelled on the cross. By faith in Him, we have the certain hope of eternal life secured for us by His resurrection. Jesus does not weep over those who trust in Him. He rejoices in them.
Even when you and I fall again into sin, Jesus does not turn His back on us and walk away, just as He did not turn His back on Jerusalem and the temple. He walks right into the middle of our sin and trouble through His Word, and He brings us the peace of His forgiveness and salvation. Jesus never stops cleansing us of the things that keep us from hearing and growing in His Word of grace.
We Need Continuous Cleansing, and Jesus promises to provide it. He is preparing us here and now for the time when we will have perfect peace in His heavenly city and will worship Him with perfect praise in His heavenly temple.
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 “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who took our sins to His grave and rose from the dead with forgiveness, life, and peace for us, dear fellow redeemed:
When the ancient Pharaohs were buried, they were buried with all sorts of treasures and provisions. The tomb of King Tut contained over 5,000 items including a solid gold coffin, weapons of war, furniture, food, and clothing. The Egyptians believed they would need all these things in the afterlife. But ultimately those treasures lay unused until robbers or archaeologists found them. The Pharaohs were buried with great plenty but never lived again to use it.
Jesus was put in a tomb with nothing but burial cloths and the spices that accompanied them. The Jews did not believe like the Egyptians that earthly things could be taken into the eternal realm. The Jews believed that death was death, so they assumed that the amazing work of Jesus was over and done. They would not see Him again on earth.
Suppose they had believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise again. What do you think they would have buried with Him in the tomb? Maybe some food and clothes? Some ointment for His wounds? If they had believed His promise, I think they would have wanted to be there in the tomb with Him, waiting and watching for Him to start breathing again.
But His disciples did not believe, not yet. Today’s text describes what happened on the evening of Easter. Jesus had risen from the dead early that morning and appeared to several women who came to the tomb expecting to find His dead body. He had spoken to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus. And at some point that day, He had also appeared to Simon Peter.
But none of these appearances coaxed His disciples out of their fear and hiding. They remained huddled together in an out-of-the-way place in Jerusalem. They felt completely lost without their confident Leader. They probably tried to remember the things He had told them, but none of it seemed to do much good now that He was gone. They almost certainly felt ashamed for boasting that they would fight with Him to the death before deserting Him when He was arrested. As much as they would like to be with Him again, how could they bear to look Him in the eye?
Then suddenly Jesus was standing right there in the room, right in their midst! We expect the first words from Jesus’ mouth to be something like, “Now do you believe?” or, “Why didn’t you listen to what I said?” or, “Why are you here hiding?” But the first words from His mouth were, “Peace to you!” Jesus was not concerned about punishing His weak disciples or hatching a payback plan against those who beat Him and crucified Him. He did not come to “take names” or to “take revenge.” He came to give, to give gifts.
His sacrificial death brought peace with God. If Jesus had not suffered and died for our sins, we would still be opposed to God. We would be His enemies, and His wrath would be turned toward us (Rom. 5:9-10). Because we have proven ourselves to be no more faithful than the disciples. We wonder why they didn’t believe when Jesus told them He would rise again. But others could wonder why we haven’t lived the way God has told us to in His Ten Commandments. God always speaks clearly and truthfully, but we do not always listen to and follow Him faithfully.
We don’t deserve to have peace with God. But “Peace!” is what Jesus declared when He rose from the dead. He made peace by going to the cross and shedding His blood in payment for our sins (Col. 1:20). This is why He said, “It is finished!” just before He died (Joh. 19:30). But those words would have been empty if Jesus had not risen from the dead. He could have said whatever He wanted and made whatever promises, but none of them would have mattered if He stayed in the grave.
His resurrection proved that He truly was the Son of God and that His work to save sinners was complete. His empty tomb shows that peace was made between God and sinners. God is not at war with us. He wants to empty tombs, not fill them. He promises that all who trust in Jesus as their only Savior will rise just as Jesus rose. St. Paul writes that He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 4:25-5:1).
So Jesus rose with a message of peace for His disciples. It wasn’t the first time He had promised them peace. Shortly before His death, He told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Joh. 14:27). And how did He find them just a few days later? With troubled and fearful hearts (Luk. 24:38). But “the things that [made] for peace” had been accomplished (Luk. 19:42). He had died and risen again. The peace of His forgiveness and life was not dependent on their actions or attitude. The “Peace!” He declared was a gift coming from His saving work.
It was a gift He wanted others to have too. “Peace to you,” He said again. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. What a strange thing! The disciples might have expected Jesus to disown them for their weakness and faithlessness. Instead He commissioned them to bring His message of peace to the world.
Then we come across a detail in our text that causes us to scratch our heads a bit. St. John writes that after declaring “Peace!” for the second time, Jesus “breathed on them.” We don’t usually think of getting “breathed on” as a positive thing. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you ever tell your brother or sister to go away and stop breathing on you? And in our year of facemasks and social distancing, getting “breathed on” was avoided by people around the world.
But Jesus breathed on His disciples. His breathing on them was tied directly to the words that followed, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, so they would be equipped to bring His peace to others.
One Lutheran commentator argues that Jesus did not breathe on each disciple individually but on the group as a whole. If it had been individually, He would have done the same for Thomas when He appeared again a week later. But this breathing out of the Spirit was not just for these special individuals; it was for the Church of all time (The Wenzel Commentary, p. 792).
Jesus has given the Church the authority to forgive sins or to retain sins. This is called the “Office of the Keys.” To those who are sorry for their sins and believe in Jesus as their Savior, the Church declares “Peace!” We tell them that the door to heaven is open to them because of what Jesus has done. But for those who are not sorry for their sins, the Church cannot declare “Peace!” Peace was won for them by Jesus, but the unrepentant reject it by denying their sins. Until they admit their sins, heaven is closed to them.
No one can make another repent of their sins and trust Jesus’ Word of peace. It is not in our power to change hearts. But God can. He does this transformative work through His Word. Wherever the Word is, God the Holy Spirit is active. Jesus clearly tied together the message about what He had accomplished with the ongoing work of the Spirit. And we see the effect His Spirit-filled Word had on His disciples. They went from anxiety and doubt to comfort and confidence.
The Holy Spirit does the same for you when you hear the powerful Word of God. Through the Word and Sacraments, Jesus comes right here in our midst. He comes to you in the midst of your troubles and sorrows and doubts, and He says, “Peace to you!” He breathes His rich blessings of forgiveness and life upon you by sending the Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit assures you that everything Jesus did was for you.
Anyone can know the facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But knowing the facts alone does not save you. You are saved by believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection were for you, that He reconciled you eternally with God, that He won your freedom from sin, death, and devil. This gives great comfort as you struggle along in this life and are afflicted by anxieties and fears. Jesus triumphed over all your enemies and continues to bring you the comfort, hope, and strength of His victory.
Those Pharaohs stored up treasures in their tombs out of greed and selfishness, but all of it was taken from them. Jesus took no riches into His tomb, but He emerged with wonderful gifts to give. Jesus gives these gifts every time you partake of the Word and Sacraments in church and as you encourage one another in personal conversation.
Wherever Jesus’ Word of peace is declared, the Holy Spirit is working to turn doubts into confidence and sorrows to gladness. The gifts of Jesus bring peace to our troubled hearts and prepare us to depart this world in peace to join Him in heavenly 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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(picture from “Doubting Thomas” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872
Christmas Eve – Pr. Faugstad homilies
Text: St. Luke 2:8-14
I. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
We can imagine how the appearance of an angel in the night sky might have looked to the shepherds. But what does it mean that “the glory of the Lord shone round about them”? To understand this, we have to go back to the time of Moses, and the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery. When Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law of God, “the glory of the LORD” was there in a cloud (Exo. 24:16). The appearance of His glory “was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” (v. 17).
When Moses finished building the tabernacle, “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled [it]” (Exo. 40:34). The same thing happened many years later when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (1Ki. 8:11). On these two occasions fire came from the LORD’s glorious presence to consume the sacrifices offered (Lev. 9:24, 2Ch. 7:1). So “the glory of the Lord” was hidden in a cloud and accompanied by fire. Anyone who witnessed these appearances trembled at the power of God and fell down before Him.
It’s no wonder that the shepherds were so terribly frightened. Not only did an angel come upon them, but “the glory of the LORD” also surrounded them with all His fiery majesty. Moments like this make sinful mortals aware of their un-holiness and utter weakness. But the LORD did not send His angel to destroy these shepherds. He sent His angel with good news for them. The mighty Son of God had come down to earth, hidden not in a blazing cloud, but in human flesh. The glory that used to fill the gold-covered temple in Jerusalem now filled a tiny Baby in Bethlehem.
Hymn: #147:1-4 – “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”
II. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Do you suppose the shepherds wondered why the angel had come to them? Who were they? No one knew them outside that area. Hardly anyone would have noticed if they lived or died. They were just regular old shepherds. So why did the angel appear to them instead of someone else? Why not the high priest? Why not the king of Judea? Why not Caesar Augustus, the ruler of that vast empire?
The angel appeared to the shepherds because they mattered to God. The “good tidings of great joy” which the angel brought was for “all people”—including those lowly shepherds. This good news is intended for you also, no matter your background, no matter your circumstances, no matter what sins stain your past. “Unto you”—FOR YOU—was born that day in the city of David a Savior.
This Savior was the Christ, the Anointed One, the One promised for thousands of years. And He was the Lord, true God begotten of the Father from eternity. The shepherds had nothing to fear and neither do you. This Savior is the embodiment of 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Joh. 3:16-17). God the Father sent His Son to save the shepherds and you and me and “all people.”
Hymn: #123:1-5 – “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”
III. “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
The angel told the shepherds that the Savior had been born “in the city of David.” But with so many returning to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census, there must have been a number of babies in the town. So the angel directed them how to find the Christ-Child. He would be “wrapped in swaddling clothes”—probably not unique for a baby. And He would be “lying in a manger”—now that was unique!
How could the world’s Lord and King arrive under such humble circumstances? Where was His royal reception? Where was His ornate palace? Where were His personal attendants? There is nothing the world could have done to properly welcome this Baby. Martin Luther wrote: “Were earth a thousand times as fair, / Beset with gold and jewels rare, / It yet were far too poor to be / A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee” (ELH #123, v. 10). It is not about what we have done or could do for our King; it is about what He does for us.
Jesus Himself said later that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28). He came to redeem all who were condemned by the Law, all who could not save themselves (Gal. 4:4-5). He came to give His own life as payment for your sins, so that you and everyone who trusts in Him would inherit the eternal riches of heaven. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
Hymn: #145 – “What Child Is This?”
IV. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Look how easy it is for angels to move from heaven to earth. Just when the angel finished speaking, “suddenly” a huge number of angels appeared with him. This shows us that angels do not travel a great distance from deep in the cosmos to be here with us. God does not have to peer through countless stars in outer space to see us on earth. He and His holy angels are just on the other side of a veil. They are hidden from our eyes, but we are not hidden from theirs.
On the night of Jesus’ birth, a multitude of these angels came to sing the praises of the living God. They were not ashamed to appear before the shepherds. They were not jealous about what God was doing for mankind. They glorified their Creator who sits in the highest heaven. And they sang of the peace that had come from heaven to earth. God had not sent His Son to make peace among the nations or even to bring peace in the visible church. God sent His Son to make peace between Him and all sinners.
This is the true gift of Christmas. Christmas is not about the food we eat. It is not about the presents under a sparkling tree. It is not about families getting together. Those things are all good and have their place. But that is not why the angels were singing. They were singing because God had taken on human flesh. The Christ had been born to save, to make peace through the shedding of His blood. This is why we and all the faithful still join the angels in their heavenly song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Hymn: #125:1, 3 – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
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(picture from “The Shepherds and the Angel” by Carl Bloch, 1879)
The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 4:4-7
In Christ Jesus, our joy, our crown, our Lord (ELH 127, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
Do you have a favorite Christmas? Was there one year in particular that ranks on top because of something special that happened or because of some gift you received? Maybe a family member made it home when they weren’t expected. Or your parents told you that the gift you wanted was too much, but there it was under the tree.
For some of you, your favorite Christmas may have happened a while ago. You expect that no Christmas in the future could compare to the good ones of your youth. When you think back, there is a certain warmth in those memories that present Christmases do not have. Now you might feel the pressure to deliver that feeling to your kids or grandkids. You have to remember all the little traditions. You have to get the right gifts. You have to prepare the favorite foods. Some people thrive on these preparations, but others feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Still others would rather not have Christmas at all. It reminds them of loss, of a parent that is no longer here, or a spouse, or a friend, or a child. Christmas is supposed to be a warm and happy time, a time for family. But Christmas only makes them feel more alone. Others feel resentment at Christmas, resentment toward those who hurt them, who did not appreciate the sacrifices they made.
In today’s Epistle lesson, the Holy Spirit has given us words of encouragement and comfort at times like these. The Spirit inspired Paul to write this letter to the church in Philippi while he was kept in a Roman prison. It wasn’t the first time he was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. In fact, his first visit to Philippi included a night in jail after he was targeted by a mob. On that occasion, Paul and his fellow worker Silas—their feet fastened in stocks—prayed and sang hymns to God late into the night (Act. 16:25).
Their joyful confidence in that setting seemed just as out of place as the words we have today. From his cell in a Roman prison Paul wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” In case his readers should quickly pass over or miss what he said, he repeated the message: “again I will say, Rejoice!” It doesn’t seem like Paul could be joyful at a time like this. But he was, and in his Letter to the Philippians, he recounted the things that brought him this joy.
He said that he always prayed for the Philippian Christians with joy because of their support and encouragement of his work (1:4-5). He rejoiced that his imprisonment served to advance the Gospel among the imperial guard and to embolden others to proclaim God’s grace (1:12-18). He rejoiced that God’s will would be done whether in Paul’s life or his death (1:18-20). And He rejoiced at the Philippian congregation’s faithfulness to the Word (2:2,17-18, 4:1).
Paul’s joyful attitude was not simply a “glass-half-full” rather than a “glass-half-empty” approach. His focus was not on the power of positive thinking. His joy was “in the Lord.” He explained this more toward the end of his letter. He wrote: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:11-13).
When people cite the last part of that passage, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” their focus is typically more on the “I can do all things” than on the “through him who strengthens.” Athletes cite this passage as they try to up their game. Entrepreneurs cite it while trying to reach their business goals. Students cite it while studying for a big test.
But Paul’s focus was always on the teaching and preaching of the Gospel. He did not care about any personal achievements. He did not apply these words to his tent-making. He said, “I can be brought low, I can be hungry and in need, and yet I will rejoice because I have Jesus.” As he said in another letter: “when I am weak [weak in himself], then I am strong” [strong in the Lord] (2Co. 12:10).
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” It’s important to understand that joy is not the same as happiness. You and I can rejoice even when we are not feeling happy.
- As we deal with mistreatment and unkindness from others, we can rejoice that God loves us and gives us fellow believers to encourage us.
- As we struggle with physical and mental pain, we can rejoice that Jesus personally endured such pain and promises to carry us through it.
- As we experience financial trouble, we can rejoice that the things of this world are only temporary, and that Jesus has obtained true riches for us in heaven.
- As we carry the burden of guilt for sins we have committed, we can rejoice that Jesus paid for all these sins on the cross and forgives them all.
- As we mourn the death of someone we love, we can rejoice that Jesus rose in victory over death and will come again to raise the dead on the last day.
Our joy in the Lord is not a feeling we can get better at if we practice it enough. Our joy is produced in us by the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word of Christ. The Holy Spirit leads us to believe that His Word is meant for each one of us. The angel said to the shepherds, “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luk. 2:10), which means these “good tidings of great joy” are meant for you. John the Baptizer said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh. 1:29), so the Lamb came to take away your sin.
The Lord wants you to know and believe these things because He loves you. He cares about every aspect of your life. He knows you better than a mother knows her child. He knows you better than you know yourself. He sees you in your pain, your stress, your sadness, and your loneliness, and He comes to help and strengthen you. In his great Advent hymn, Paul Gerhardt spoke about the Lord’s gracious presence with us:
Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o’er joys departed, / And tremble at your doom;
Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door,
Who best can help and cheer you, / And bid you weep no more. (ELH 94, v. 6)
In today’s text, the Apostle Paul wrote that “The Lord is at hand.” He is not far away; He is near you. He hears when you cry out to Him. He hears your prayer of repentance. He hears your call for help. This is why there is no need to “be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Your Lord hears every petition you make, and He answers each one in the best way and at the right time.
Through His Word and Sacraments, the Lord is present to give you peace. The peace He brings “surpasses all understanding.” It is not the peace of having a day all to yourself, or finally finishing a project that has taken you a long time, or getting your whole family under one roof. The Lord gives a peace which the world cannot give. He brings the peace of sins forgiven, of God’s anger appeased, of salvation won, of eternal life secured.
This peace with God had nothing to do with our goodness, our efforts, or our abilities. This is why it is so beyond our understanding. Why would God send His Son to make peace with sinners? Why would He give so much when we had nothing to give Him? This was a work of pure mercy and grace, and it is why our confidence in our salvation can be so rock-solid. Our salvation does not depend on us; it was secured entirely by Him. So we do have peace with God, and no earthly thing can take that away from us.
This promise of peace with God is what now guards our hearts and our minds. This Gospel message keeps the devil away with all his temptations and lies. It keeps the world from filling our eyes and ears with false hope. And it keeps our sinful nature from destroying our faith. The peace of forgiveness and salvation that we have through Jesus – this is our reason for rejoicing.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow heirs of God, partakers of peace by faith in Jesus: if this Christmas week finds you hurting or afraid or lonely or sad or overwhelmed—you can still rejoice! You can rejoice that Jesus came to save you. You can rejoice that He still comes to strengthen you. And you can rejoice that soon He will come again in His glory. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”
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The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, through whom we are justified and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), dear fellow redeemed:
When Noah and his sons worked on building the ark, none of their neighbors thought a great flood would come. When the people of Sodom and Gomorrah tried to abuse Lot’s guests, none of them expected fire to rain down on them from heaven. When the leaders of Jerusalem conspired to kill Jesus, they did not imagine that Jesus’ prophecy about their beloved city would come to pass. But it did. In the year 70, the Roman army did what Jesus predicted. The Romans besieged the city of Jerusalem, breached its walls, killed its inhabitants, and burned the great temple to the ground.
Each of these examples—the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the overthrow of Jerusalem—teach us something about the human condition, about God’s wrath, and about God’s mercy. They show us how unaware or uncaring sinners are about the will of God. Noah’s neighbors heard his warnings about what was coming and ignored it. Lot’s neighbors saw his righteous example and despised it. The people of Jerusalem witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, and still they sent Him to His death.
Therefore God’s wrath burned against these hardened unbelievers. By the waters of the flood, He destroyed all life on the earth. By fire from heaven, He burned up everything in Sodom and Gomorrah. And by the hand of the Romans, He brought terrible suffering and death to Jerusalem.
On the other hand, these events show His mercy too. Many were drowned in the flood, but Noah and his family were preserved. Two cities were burned up, but Lot and his daughters were spared. Jerusalem was overcome, but the Christian inhabitants of the city were moved to relocate before the Romans arrived.
God does not delight in destruction. He wants all sinners to repent and be saved. In Ezekiel chapter 18, He says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn, and live” (v. 32). We see His compassion in the tears Jesus shed while looking over Jerusalem: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”
The “things that make for peace” were the things Jesus was about to do in the city. He was going to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. He would willingly let Himself be beaten, flogged, ridiculed, and crucified. He suffered and died to pay for all sin. This included the sins of the people in Noah’s day, the sins of Lot’s neighbors, and the sins of the people of Israel who rejected Him. He paid for their sins and everyone else’s sins besides.
He paid for sin, so that mankind might no longer be separated from its Creator. He is the One who could blot out the wrongdoing of thousands of years of human history. He could right the wrong begun in the Garden of Eden. He and only He could do this, and He did. He made peace “by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
But so many reject this peace. They want war, war with God. Who would go to war with God? Satan tried it and now he slithers along on his belly eating dust. That doesn’t stop others from doing what he did. They rebel. They go to war with God by acting like His Commandments are no longer in place. In our “enlightened” age, many now feel comfortable setting that “traditional morality” aside. Among other things, they ignore what God says about respecting authority, about guarding against harm to the body, and about keeping sexual intimacy within marriage only.
Many who take issue with the Bible’s teaching, however, still like what they see in Jesus. They like the Jesus who sticks up for the poor and hurting and who eats with social outcasts. But what do they make of the Jesus who forcefully drives out the sellers from the temple courts, as we heard in today’s text? Jesus is the Savior of all people. But He also clearly identified Himself as the Judge, who will condemn the unrepentant to hell on the last day (Mat. 25:31-46).
Early in His public work, Jesus went around preaching this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17). Jesus called sinners to repentance. His primary mission was not to diagnose and treat people’s physical or social ills, but to address their spiritual ones. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:31-32).
Those who think they need no spiritual care are the self-righteous. They find it easy to point out the shortcomings of others. But they fail to see their own sins. They compare their lives with others and feel they must be on the right track. They haven’t made the mistakes that this person made. They haven’t acted like that person does. They have done a lot of good for a lot of people. Others could learn plenty from their example.
This was the attitude of the chief priests and scribes. They took pride in their holy living. They also hated Jesus. Our text says that they “were seeking to destroy Him.” Why were they fighting against Jesus? Why did they want Him dead? It’s because they did not want to acknowledge their sins and repent.
It is painful to admit our sins. We do not want to believe that we have been as bad as God’s law says we have. But by clinging to our self-righteousness and doing all we can to keep our sins buried, we only make things worse. Then we fail to recognize “the things that make for peace.” We fail to realize “the time of [our] visitation.” By refusing to repent of our sins, we show that we are opposed to Jesus, because He came to suffer and die for sinners.
But the Lord does not give up on stubborn sinners. He weeps for them. The Holy Spirit continues to work on their hearts through the law, so that their eyes are opened. He helps them to see the difference between God’s holiness and their sin. He shows them there is no hope for them without Jesus. There is no salvation apart from Him.
Jesus and only Jesus could bridge the gap between us and God. He is perfect God and perfect Man in one person. He came to live the life the law requires. He came to fulfill all righteousness for us, to do what only God can do. We sinners have fallen far short of God’s requirement, but Jesus met it. He met it for us.
And then He went to the cross absorbing the punishment for our violations of the law. He suffered for the people’s rejection of the truth in Jerusalem. He suffered for every time a Christian house of prayer is used to pedal the world’s goods. He suffered for our self-righteousness, our spiritual laziness, and our selfish attitudes.
Whether you own up to them or not, Jesus shed His blood for each and every one of your sins and my sins. The price has been paid. The payment is made. No bad deed went unpunished. Jesus bore the sins of all. He suffered death and hell for all. God and man have been reconciled. The sin that separated God and man was atoned for. Jesus made peace between us. That means you have nothing to lose by confessing your sins—nothing except your pride.
When you repent of your sin, God does not sit on His throne weighing the pros and cons of forgiving you. Your sin was already forgiven when Jesus hung on the cross. So then why should you have to confess your sins? Because you need to remember who you are in relation to God. You are the sinner. He is the Savior. There is no justification for your sinning. But there is justification for those who admit their sin and trust in the grace of God.
You cannot come to this understanding on your own. On your own, you would be at war with God, trying to show how you are better than He says you are. But the Holy Spirit humbles you through the law and then brings you peace through the Gospel. Through the law, He cleanses the temple of your body like Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. Through the Gospel He fills you with the righteousness and glory of God.
So the work is done for you. Your sins are forgiven. In Jesus, You Have the Things That Make for Peace. Is that it? Should each of us go back to our homes secure in the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace toward us? Yes! And day after day, we should retrace the spiritual steps that brought us this comfort. You and I sin every day, so we should repent every day. And every day we should replenish our hearts and souls with God’s message of peace. Then a week from now, we will have the opportunity to be fed again through Word and Sacrament in the divine service just as we have been fed today.
When Jesus was teaching daily in the temple, we are told that “all the people were hanging on His words.” They listened intently to Him. They did not want to miss anything, because Jesus had “the words of eternal life” (Joh. 6:68). He spoke words that they could not live without. He spoke words of peace, peace for the greatest and the smallest, peace for the good and the bad, peace for you and for me.
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(painting of the “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The First Sunday after Christmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:33-40
In Christ Jesus, who was brought to Jerusalem as a little Baby and who would later return there to give Himself as our humble Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
According to people who study this sort of thing, each of us has tens of thousands of thoughts every day. That’s a lot of thoughts, though I’m not sure how it is possible to count them. Most of our thoughts we keep to ourselves. Sometimes people catch us daydreaming and ask us what is on our minds. That can be a hard question to answer. Maybe we can’t explain what we are thinking, or we would rather not say. But sometimes our thinking is obvious to those around us even when we have not shared it. They can tell what we are thinking by the things we say and do.
Simeon occupied himself with thoughts about the Messiah. He believed the many prophesies telling about the coming Savior. A few verses before today’s lesson, Simeon is described as a man “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luk. 2:25). He did not know when this promise would be fulfilled until God the Holy Spirit revealed something wonderful to him. It was revealed to him that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26).
While he waited, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, and the Baby Jesus was born. Because he was the firstborn son of Mary, Jewish law required that He be presented to God in the temple forty days from His birth. So Joseph and Mary carefully prepared for the short trip from quiet Bethlehem to bustling Jerusalem. When they got there, they purchased two turtledoves to offer as a sacrifice according to the custom of the law.
As they ascended the steps toward the temple, they were met by an older man, a man they had never seen before. Simeon was directed to them by the Holy Spirit, and he gently gathered the Child in his arms. What was he thinking at this moment? The evangelist Luke tells us that he “blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’” (vv. 28-32). His prayers had been answered. He now looked upon his Savior and the Savior of all peoples. Now he could depart this world in peace.
And what were Joseph and Mary thinking about all this? They “marveled at what was said about Him.” But Simeon was not finished. He blessed Joseph and Mary. Then he looked at Mary and said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” That was a troubling follow up to his positive words of promise. It was a prophecy that the Holy Spirit granted him about this Child. Simeon said that some would reject Jesus, and some would believe in Him. Mary would suffer while He suffered. Because of Him, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.
The thoughts of many would be revealed from what they said about Jesus and how they treated Him. Many of the scribes and Pharisees showed the true condition of their hearts by their spiteful words toward Jesus and their various attempts to take His life. But Jesus did not need them to speak and act to know where they stood. He knew what they were thinking. He could read their hearts. At one point He said to them, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mat. 23:28).
On the other hand, He found faith in hearts where others would not have expected it. He saw faith in the heart of a Roman military commander (Luk. 7:9), in the heart of a prostitute (7:50), and in the heart of a tax collector (19:9). A person’s pedigree, social standing, or past were not reliable indicators of his or her standing before God. The thoughts of these outcasts were revealed by their humble trust in Jesus, while the thoughts of the hypocritical religious leaders were shown by their proud rejection of Him.
So where do you stand? What Do You Think about Jesus? I suppose your presence here goes a ways toward answering that question. If you didn’t believe in Jesus, why would you be in church? But going to church, participating in the service, and giving offerings does not automatically make you a Christian. The thoughts of many are revealed not by what they say and do on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning, but by how they are the other 6 ½ days of the week. Do your friends, co-workers, and neighbors know you are a Christian or would they find this surprising? On the other hand, having an outwardly holy life does not make you a Christian either. The scribes and Pharisees were outwardly holy too.
Every one of us here can think of times that we said or did things which were not at all consistent with our faith. We tried to justify our behavior at the time, but we know it was wrong. We know we sinned. We can think of other times that we were just going through the motions of being a Christian. Maybe no one else knew our thoughts of anger or jealousy or covetousness or self-righteousness. They did not know how much these thoughts consumed us, but we did. We had everything together on the outside, but we were churning on the inside.
Our sins on the outside and on the inside made us feel guilty. Maybe we still feel guilty about the things we said or did or thought about a long time ago. We might hope that the further away we get from the sin, the more our memory of it will fade. But we can’t hide anything from God. He already knows. The psalmist says that the LORD discerns our thoughts and knows what we will say even before we say it (Psa. 139:2,4).
If He wanted to, God could number our sins. He could list them all. But He does not hold our past sins over our heads. Instead He invites us to leave our sins at His throne of grace. He inspired Isaiah to write these words, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:6-9).
We expect God’s judgment for our many sins, but His thoughts are not our thoughts. God loved us even in our sin. He sent His only Son to endure the fires of hell for us, so we would be spared eternal punishment. He forgives our sinful saying and doing and thinking. He forgives our bad behavior, our weak faith, and our self-righteousness. In Jesus, God’s thoughts toward us are clear. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa. 1:18).
God wants you to confess your sins to Him. He knows them already, but it is important for you to acknowledge them. You do this in church, but repentance should be an every day activity. At the same time that we confess our sins, we also apply His Word of grace to ourselves: Jesus was born under the law to live a holy life for me. He died on the cross to save me.
Through this Gospel message, the Holy Spirit also sanctifies us. He works to plant holy thoughts in our minds. He works to form good spiritual habits within us, like the ones we see in Anna. Anna’s husband died just seven years into their marriage. She could have been bitter about this. She could have blamed God and questioned His love for her. But instead, she trusted in the Lord and waited for His blessings. She spent her time in the temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” And when she saw the Christ Child, “she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
This is the joyous response to our salvation that the Holy Spirit works in us too. Like Anna, we go to church to hear God’s promises, and we worship Him with disciplined and prayerful lives. Like Anna, we also share the hope we have with the people around us. We let it be known that God loves sinners—including ourselves—, and that He sent Jesus to redeem us. In this way, we function as lights of God in a dark world. We do not seek to call attention to ourselves but to Him who died for all peoples.
You and I think thousands of thoughts per day. Our thoughts are not always directed toward God, but His thoughts are always directed toward us. He leads us to recognize our sins and to see in Jesus our holy Savior. With Simeon and Anna we can praise Him to the end of our days until we “depart in peace” from this life to the next.
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(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, who saved us from the destruction we deserved by making peace between us and God through His own death, dear fellow redeemed:
Most people have a special affection for the place where they grew up. They see that place in a different way than others do. Others can look at the same property or the same location and wonder what is so great about it. Why should anyone care about that tiny Iowa town, or that farm site with sagging buildings? But for those who lived there, the beauty is in the details. They remember the work done in that barn, the joys shared in that house, the memories made in that school and those businesses.
We have similar feelings about our home church. It may not look that impressive, but it is where the spiritually hungry are fed and where life’s joys and sorrows are shared by believers in Christ.
Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth, but like all Israelites, He had a special affection for the city of Jerusalem, some 65 miles south. Jerusalem was the capital city of Judea, standing tall on Mount Zion. But what really set it apart was the temple dedicated to the worship of the true God. Jesus attended His local synagogue each week in Nazareth, but this could not compare to the great temple.
According to Jewish law, Jesus was taken there at forty days old to be presented to the Lord (Lk. 2:22-38). Then He returned year after year with Joseph and Mary to observe the Passover festival. On one of these trips when Jesus was twelve, He went to learn from the temple teachers. His parents did not know He had gone to do this. When they found Him after days of searching, He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49). The temple was His heavenly Father’s house, set apart for the pure teaching of the Word and the offering of holy prayers and sacrifices.
But now Jesus looked upon this holy city and the glorious temple in it, and He wept. He wept because He foresaw the destruction that would come upon it. He clearly predicted what would happen in August of the year 70. At that time, the Roman army broke into the city and set it on fire. But the tears of Jesus were not for the impending loss of buildings, or even for the loss of the temple. His tears were for His people, the Israelites, for those who “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”
It was first for these descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the Son of God took on flesh. Jesus stated this plainly when He told a woman who was not Jewish, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24). There were certainly times that He interacted with and helped Gentile people, but His primary work during His public ministry was among the Jews. None of them were insignificant to Him. He cared just the same for the poor and the rich, the sick and the healthy, the morally depraved and the morally upright. The Jews were no nameless and faceless mass. He knew every one and loved every one.
He loved His people like you love your children and parents and relatives and close friends—except that He loved with a perfect love. This is why He wept over Jerusalem. He had come to deliver His beloved people from their bondage to the law, to sin, and to death, but many of them rejected this deliverance. They either did not recognize their need for a Savior, or they did not think Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Their unbelief showed in what they allowed to take place in the temple. Instead of a house dedicated to true worship, it had become a house of commerce. This is what Martin Luther witnessed in Rome when he visited there as a monk. Everything “spiritual” was offered at a price. The same is true in many quarters of the visible church today, where spiritual gain is promised through monetary gifts. When Jesus saw this buying and selling taking place in the temple, He drove out the sellers. “‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ He said quoting from Isaiah, “but you have made it a den of robbers.”
The temple was not being used for its intended purpose. The sacrifices may have been offered, the ceremonies may have been observed, but worldly pursuits instead of spiritual gain were foremost in the people’s minds. In today’s Old Testament lesson (Jer. 7:1-7), the LORD through Jeremiah warned His people about this. He said that the temple did them no good when they carried out the prescribed rituals without repentance. The LORD asked, “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?” (vv. 9-11).
The same question is rightly asked of us today. Are we content that our church teaches the right thing and worships the right way, but we have little concern for godly living and earnest repentance? If that is the case, then Jesus now weeps over us as well. Then He sees the destruction that is coming upon us as long as we refuse to repent and change our sinful ways.
What we do with our lives and our bodies is no small matter to God. The New Testament epistles refer to each child of God as His “temple.” The Apostle Paul asked the Christians in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1Cor. 3:16-17). In the same letter, Paul asked again, “[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (6:19-20).
God did not create us to disobey Him, to use our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses against His will (Explanation to the First Article). He created, redeemed, and sanctified the temple of our bodies, so that we would present them “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). Many people today think they are free to do whatever they want, and to live however they like. They imagine that the only thing they need to be concerned about is their own personal happiness. God condemns this selfish behavior. He sees every sinful word and action, He knows every wicked thought, and our sin grieves Him.
But His love for us compels Him to send the Holy Spirit through the Word to drive out the sin that dwells there. God’s law, His Ten Commandments, lays bare our unrighteousness. Nothing is hidden from His sight. This is why it does us no good to try to hide our sin. The Lord already knows. He knows, but He wants us to recognize our sin too, and to acknowledge it. Along with this repentance, He also wants us to set our minds and hearts to do better. He wants us to avoid the sin that has ensnared us in the past and seek the paths of righteousness.
If we will not repent of sin, this is the same as saying we do not need a Savior. But why else did Jesus come than to save us from our sin and the death that results from it? He came for all, first for the Jews and then for the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16). Jesus kept the law perfectly on behalf of every sinner, and then atoned for each of their sins with His holy blood.
There is no stain on your past, no sin you have committed, that was not atoned for by Jesus. To say that this is so—that your sin may be greater than God’s grace—is to imagine a very weak and impotent God. This is hardly different than believing there is no God at all! The true God is more than capable to defeat the greatest enemies you face, and He has. Jesus sacrificed His life to pay for your sins, and He rose triumphant from death. This means the devil’s accusations against you cannot stand. You have sinned, but Jesus is your righteousness. You deserve death, but Jesus has won for you eternal life.
Because you believe this and freely repent of your sins, Jesus does not weep over you like He wept over Jerusalem. You are part of the “new Jerusalem,” the holy Christian Church. To Jesus, you members of His Church by faith are no nameless and faceless mass. None of you are insignificant to Him. He knows each of you and loves each of you. He calls you to reject the vain promises of the world, which only lead to heartache. And He wants you to ignore the devil’s lie that your life does not matter. You matter to God. Jesus shed His blood for you.
Others may look at you like someone might look at the treasured but humble places of your youth. You may not seem to have much significance or importance in the world. But You Are a Temple Set Apart for God’s Work. Your Savior sees the beauty in the details. He sees a person who is “fearfully and wonderfully made” by His gracious hand (Ps. 139:14). He sees one who is redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pe. 1:18-19). He sees one who was washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor. 6:11).
He has set you apart to receive His eternal blessings and to carry out the work for which a true temple is built, which is to offer sacrifices of prayer, thanksgiving, and a godly life to the glory of His holy name.
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(painting of the “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who died and rose again to secure for us forgiveness and peace with God, dear fellow redeemed:
For nearly three years, 12 select men accompanied Jesus as He traveled through Galilee, Judea, and the surrounding areas. They were not His bodyguards. They were not His support staff. They were His disciples. Every day they listened to His teaching and witnessed His frequent miracles. They developed a strong bond with Him. He was a leader like no other. They enjoyed the renown of being specially chosen by Him, but they also felt the hostility of those who rejected Him.
They resolved to stay with Him to the death. When Jesus decided to go to Judea not long before His crucifixion, Thomas declared to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16). Peter spoke with this same confidence just before Jesus was arrested. He said that even if the other disciples fell away from Jesus, he never would. “Even if I must die with you,” he boasted, “I will not deny you!” The other disciples agreed (Mt. 26:35).
But Peter did deny Jesus, and the rest of the disciples abandoned Him. Three years together, and they left Him to be bound and put on trial like a criminal. As far as we know, only John was present at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Judas Iscariot had hanged himself earlier that morning after betraying Jesus to the Jewish authorities. The other disciples were keeping a low profile “for fear of the Jews.” Would they be the next targets of the jealous rage of the religious leaders? Would the death penalty be urged in their case too? As Jesus rested in a dark tomb, they cowered in the darkness of their habitation with the doors locked tight.
But then reports began to come in on Sunday morning: Some women found the tomb open! Two angels told them Jesus had risen! Peter and John investigated the tomb and found no one there! Mary Magdalene reported actually talking with Jesus! Two men said they conversed with Him on the road to Emmaus! Could it be? Had Jesus actually come back from the dead?
Then suddenly Jesus appeared to the disciples in the middle of their tightly secured place. “Peace be with you,” He said, and “He showed them His hands and His side.” This is the first the disciples as a group had seen or heard from Jesus since leaving Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Their relief must have been two-fold: Jesus has risen from the dead, and He is not angry with us! This was wonderful news!
The problem was that one of the remaining eleven disciples was not present at the time. Thomas had stepped out on some errand or another. When he got back, his friends told him everything that had happened, but to him it seemed too good to be true. His fellow disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he wanted the proof they had gotten. He wanted to see the marks in Jesus’ hands and side that they claimed to have seen.
Why do you suppose Thomas was so stubborn about this? How many eyewitnesses had reported seeing the Lord? Did they lack all credibility? Were they liars? Were they just imagining things? Remember that Thomas had followed Jesus those three years just like the other disciples had. So why would Jesus appear to everyone else but him? Why should he be singled out? He did not think he was less important than the others. If Jesus was angry with him, He should be just as angry with them. Thomas didn’t deserve this!
All of us have had “why me?” moments like this. Why does everyone else seem to have close friends, while I get picked on? Why do they seem to be blessed with so much, while I have to scrape by? Why do others have a happy home life, while mine is a constant struggle? Why do they have good health, while I have constant aches and pains? Why are they rewarded for poor work, while my good efforts are ignored? Why me? Why doesn’t God bless me? What about Me?
Like stubborn Thomas, we focus on blessings we do not have, rather than the ones we do. We play the idea over and over again in our minds that we deserve better, we deserve more. We think we have done nothing to earn God’s anger—at least not more than a thousand others we could name. So why should they prosper while we suffer? And this is how we start to think of God as our enemy instead of our compassionate Savior.
Do you think Jesus regretted visiting the disciples when He did that Easter evening, when Thomas was not there? Did He take stock of the people in the room and wish He had chosen a different time? Jesus did not make a mistake. He never does. He knew Thomas was not there. He knows everything. He knew what Thomas had been saying to his friends all week. When Jesus appeared to the group the second time, He looked Thomas in the eye and said, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Then Thomas saw how foolish he had been. Of course Jesus had risen. Of course his friends were telling the truth. He now realized that he had failed to honor his Lord in the best way possible, which was to believe His word.
Jesus was not punishing Thomas by first appearing when he was gone. He was giving Thomas an opportunity to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor. 5:7). Would Thomas believe what Jesus had promised, even if there were no external proof? Thomas showed what little regard he had for Jesus’ words. He expected proof on his terms! Jesus gently admonished him and called him to repentance for this, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Those words were not just for Thomas. They are for you and me: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Being a disciple of Jesus means trusting Him even when He seems to be ignoring you or punishing you or even playing favorites. He does not love and care for others more than He loves and cares for you. You are no afterthought to Him. “God shows no partiality” (Gal. 2:6).
So why do others receive blessings, when you, like Thomas, seem to be left out in the cold? It is not for us to know why one person is burdened by extra cares and troubles while another is generally happy and content. It is not that one necessarily has a stronger faith than the other. It is not that God is punishing one and not the other. Just as we do not know why the Lord tested Thomas as opposed to a different disciple, so we do not know why particular tests and trials come our way.
But we can be certain than none of these tests and trials are sent by God to push us away from Him. They are intended to bring us closer. He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him, who put their trust in Him (Rom. 8:28). In other words, it should not concern us that others appear to be happier, more successful, or stronger. How things appear may not actually be how they are. They will have what God in His wisdom chooses to give them, and we will have the things that He determines are right for us.
His purpose is not to give us everything we want in this life, or even everything we pray for. We do not always want the right things. His purpose is to save us—to give us peace, His peace, “which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). This is what the disciples needed, and this is what He gave them. They had rejected Him, run from Him, and sinned against Him, but He had not rejected them. “Peace be with you,” He said. “I am not angry. We are at peace. This is what I came to do. I came to bring peace by the shedding of My blood and to declare this peace for the world by My resurrection.”
Jesus is also at peace with you. He has not forgotten about you and the troubles you have. Just as He was fully aware of Thomas’ struggles, so He is fully aware of yours. And just as He came with the blessing of peace to Thomas, so He comes to you. Even though you feel shut off from all help with the doors and windows locked tight, Jesus comes into your very midst. He does not come visibly showing you His hands and side; He comes through the means in which He has promised to be present.
He comes through His word of absolution spoken by His representative, your pastor. The disciples were the first of His representatives to whom He said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In the same way, when I speak that forgiveness to you in church or in private confession, it is just as powerful and sure as if Jesus appeared before you and said it Himself. He does not need to be visibly present for His word to be true. He did not need to present Himself to Thomas for His resurrection to be true. He had risen whether Thomas believed it or not. In the same way, He has won forgiveness for all people whether they believe it or not.
Jesus also comes to you through His holy Sacraments. When the sinner is baptized at the font, He is there anointing the baptized with His righteousness and peace. When baptized believers later approach the Communion rail, He offers His own body and blood to give them—to put right in their mouths—the peace of sins forgiven. You cannot see His presence. But you can hear His voice, a voice which says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
You are blessed to have this faith in the world’s Savior. He came for you. He gave up His life for you. And He rose from the dead for your victory. What further proof of His love could anyone ask for?
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(painting is portion of “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602)
The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who still comes humbly in the name of the Lord, dear fellow redeemed:
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Have you heard that song on the radio yet? It is so lively and cheerful. It’s the kind of song that gets stuck in your head—whether you like it or not. And what is it that makes this the most wonderful time? According to the song, it’s kids jingle belling, parties for hosting, caroling out in the snow, and having loved ones near. Those are all good things, but those things alone cannot guarantee happiness.
For many, this season is not the most wonderful but is the most difficult time of the year. They feel the crunch of preparing for Christmas parties at work and at home. They feel the financial strain of trying to get the perfect gift for everyone. Some feel a deep sadness due to the recent death of someone close to them. Others feel the emptiness of dreams and plans unfulfilled through the passing years. They wonder how everyone else can manage to be so happy when they are so discouraged and down.
It was for you who are struggling that Paul Gerhardt wrote this hymn stanza: “Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom, / Who mourn o’er joys departed, / And tremble at your doom; / Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door, / Who best can help and cheer you, / And bid you weep no more” (ELH #94, v. 6). You can rejoice even in the difficult times of life, because He Is Near You Who Can Cheer You.
Who is it that is “near you”? It is Jesus. Jesus is God, and God is everywhere. So in that sense, He is near everyone. But that is not what we are talking about here. The Son of God “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary” (Nicene Creed) to be our Immanuel—God with us. He came to meet us in the depths of our sin, our despair, our grief, and our trouble. He did not shy away from sickness and disease, from physical, mental, and spiritual distress. He came.
He came humbly, and many despised Him for it. They did not like how He associated with the social outcasts and sinners. If He was the Christ of God, shouldn’t He be in the company of those who tried the hardest to keep God’s holy law? Wouldn’t He praise their efforts and usher them into closer communion with God? But instead, they were criticized and even cursed by Him. Jesus openly told the people to “practice and observe whatever [the scribes and Pharisees] tell you—but not what they do” (Mt. 23:3). He called them hypocrites! That was not the sort of Messiah they were expecting.
But aside from the religious elite, the common people were enthralled by Jesus. His powers were so far above them, yet none were below His concern. And He did not employ those powers for selfish gain or fame. He used them to help people and serve them. He could heal with a touch or just with a Word. Shortly before riding through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus had even called the dead man Lazarus out of his tomb. This is what brought the crowd out to meet Him and to cover the road ahead of Him with palm branches and cloaks (Jn. 12:18). Who could this be but the Messiah, the promised Savior from the family of David? “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
They believed that He had come to be their king, but they did not understand this in the right way. They hoped for a king who would liberate them from the Romans. They wanted a king who would restore earthly glory to the people of Israel and cause them to be respected around the world. But this is not why the Son of God came. God became Man to save. He came to shoulder the burden of the law that was impossible for us all to carry and to let His body be pierced and His blood shed to atone for all sin.
The true King hides His power in humility and His strength in weakness. This is not the sort of king that many people are looking for. If you ask them what their greatest needs are, they will probably talk about needing more time, more money, and help with relationships. The first thing on their minds is not the forgiveness of sins, righteousness from God, and the certainty of eternal life. What they especially want God to give them is good health, success at work, a comfortable lifestyle, and a feeling of happiness. If they do not receive these things, they complain and question God. They want a heavenly king who shows His strength and power in the world, so that everyone can see the visible and tangible benefits of following him.
But our Savior’s glory is hidden in the cross. He won by losing. He conquered by dying. Natural human thinking cannot comprehend this. The world despises it. But we treasure it. By faith, we see it for what it is. We understand that God became Man for me. He took my place because He loved me. He suffered and died on my behalf. He wants me to be with Him in heaven.
This is what He tells you in His Word. But He doesn’t just tell in His Word; He gives and grants through His Word. This is how the God who “came near” to the human race by taking on flesh, comes near to you personally. Jesus comes to you through His Word and Sacraments. “Behold, I am with you always,” He says, “to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He is with you “where two or three are gathered in [His] name” (Mt. 18:20). He is with you when water and Word are applied in Baptism (Rom. 6:4). He is with you when bread and wine are blessed and distributed in His Holy Supper. God can get no closer to you than His means of grace.
Many Christians think that their closeness to God depends on what they do. They measure how close they are to God by how close they feel to God. This affects how they approach prayer and worship and Christian living. Their chief consideration is not what God promises them, which is the Gospel. Their focus is on their promises to Him, which rest on the Law. It’s no wonder they find comfort in Christ so hard to come by.
If closeness to God depended on you, you know how far off you would be. God’s reach is not limited, but yours is. The prophet Isaiah says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:2). Your sins have caused the great divide between you and Him. You could never, ever bridge that gap.
But Jesus can, and He did. “[N]ow in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). St. Paul writes that Jesus reconciled you with His Father by His death on the cross. Then he states that the resurrected Christ “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17).
Jesus comes to you with a message of peace. It is not a sentimental peace like you might have all cozied up, watching a fire in the fireplace. It is a real peace, a peace that binds us together with the living God, a peace that comes from having forgiveness and salvation through Christ. This peace that we have with God is the source of our spiritual rejoicing even when we don’t feel very cheerful.
Peace with God does not replenish my bank account, but it does bestow spiritual treasures that will never be exhausted. Peace with God does not make all my earthly troubles go away, but it does increase my longing to be where trouble is no more. Peace with God does not bring my loved ones back from the dead, but it does give me hope that their bodies will be raised up, and that we will be united again in heaven.
God does not promise you a carefree life in this world. But He does promise to be present in your grief, your pain, and your struggle. That is the kind of King you have—a King who serves. He wants you to turn your weaknesses and your guilt, your worries, fears, and doubts over to Him. How do you do that? By bowing your head in repentance and giving up on your ability to make and do everything right. And then by satisfying your spiritual hunger and thirst by coming to the Lord’s Table and receiving His holy body and blood.
Jesus comes to save you there just as He came to save on Palm Sunday. Why does He come? The hymnwriter tells us: “He comes, He comes with gladness, / Moved by His love alone, / To calm your fear and sadness, / To Him they well are known…. He comes, He comes procuring / The peace of sins forgiv’n, / For all God’s sons securing / Their heritage in heav’n” (ELH 94, vv. 7, 8).
Therefore we pray, “O glorious Sun, now come, / Send forth Thy beams so cheering, / And guide us safely home!” (ELH 94, v. 10).
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(picture of the Jerico sanctuary where Jesus is present through Word and Sacrament)