The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, whose promise to provide for us is far more powerful than our worries and troubles, dear fellow redeemed:
He says it five times!
- “Do not be anxious about your life.”
- “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
- “Why are you anxious about clothing?”
- “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
- “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
Jesus thinks we have an anxiousness problem, a worry problem, and Jesus is never wrong. He also identifies another problem: our little faith. Both of those go together—worry and a lack of faith. We worry because we do not believe God will do what He says, or at least we have doubts that He will provide for us in just the way and at just the time that we need it.
But what is it that causes our worry? What is our worry based on? Our worry is not based on anything we find in God’s Word. We don’t read about an arbitrary or a fickle God who sometimes chooses to bless His children and sometimes chooses to harm them. At times He does chasten and discipline us, because He wants to lead us to repentance and a stronger faith. But this is done out of love. He is always faithful. He does not change. So worry is not based on uncertainty about God’s will and work which are clearly revealed to us in His Word.
Worry is based on our own experience and the evidence we see around us in the world. We can think of times when we had more expenses than income, more responsibilities than we had the ability to meet. Maybe we were worried about paying our bills, and then more bills came. We didn’t know where the money would come from to cover even the essentials like food and utilities. Or one of our family members was sick, and we didn’t know if we could afford the medicine needed for healing.
We also look around us and see many people who go hungry, who can’t afford clothing, who have no place to go home to. If God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, why doesn’t He feed and clothe all people in need? And if doesn’t do this for the people who really need it, how can we be sure He will do this for us? So we worry. We give more weight to our experiences and doubts than to God’s promises.
When we allow worry to come in, we are taking matters that God wants to handle and holding those matters in our own hands. We keep the burden on ourselves of providing for our needs and fixing our own problems. Or we look for another provider, another god, whose promises seem more reliable.
This is how many people view the government. They trust the government to take care of all their needs. But as necessary as government is—and God has certainly ordained it for good order and for our protection—yet government is made up of sinners, who are often ready to take as much or more than they promise to give.
Our worries really come down to 1) having enough and 2) keeping what we have. A person just out of high school or a married couple with little children might especially worry about having enough. They do without new clothes, new cars, and a nice house. Retirement is a long way off—there’s lots of work to do! But older individuals whose work has been blessed and who are able to afford the finer things, now worry about having enough to retire on and having the good health and energy to enjoy it.
When we worry about the future like this, we behave like “the Gentiles.” Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now many of us are Gentiles in the sense of not having Jewish background. But Jesus is referring to the unbelieving Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Scriptures. That isn’t us, but we act like the unbelievers when we worry about having what we need.
Instead of worry, Jesus teaches us to do this: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He says that when we put our faith in God and His Word—little though our faith may be—, all the things we need for this earthly life will be provided to us. That’s quite a promise! It’s a promise that we have difficulty accepting.
We think that if we are going to prosper in this life, we have to make it happen. We have to outwork our co-workers, we have to come up with new solutions to get ourselves noticed by the “higher-ups.” We have to be in the right place at the right time. Then we will have a shot at our dreams. Then we can have a chance at the life we always wanted.
This is not a criticism of hard work. God wants every one of us to do our work to the best of our ability, whether we are in the classroom, in the workplace, in our homes, or at church. God never endorses laziness. In teaching us not to worry, Jesus is certainly not teaching us to sit back and wait for everything to drop in our lap. The apostle Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly than this: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10).
The difference is working for selfish gain or working for godly gain. We work for godly gain when we recognize that God is the one who gives each of us our unique abilities and strengths to employ in His service. We trust that He will bless our efforts as He sees fit. He might give more to some of His children and less to others, but all of it is a gift from His gracious hand. So it is not helpful to compare what we have with what others have, since God is the Giver, and “He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136:1).
And how do we know this is true beyond any doubt, that God really is so good and merciful? We know this because the Father who created and provides for all things also gave the greatest gift of all—His only-begotten Son to save us. When Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is referring to His own holy work.
God the Father sent Him to do for us what we could not accomplish, no matter how much we worried after it or worked for it. Jesus the Christ was born under the Law, so that He might redeem us, buy us back, by His own holy life. While we are anxious and doubtful about God’s care for us, He perfectly entrusted Himself to the Father’s will. He did not worry about tomorrow; He focused on God’s Word today.
Wherever we have failed in our work through our worry, our selfishness, and our laziness, Jesus fulfilled the holy Law through His faith, His love, and His perfect commitment to the work of saving us sinners. “His righteousness” is the righteousness we must seek if we will stand before God in heaven. And this is the righteousness we already have by faith in Jesus.
Yes, our faith is “little” and never as strong as it should be. But even a little faith has salvation in Christ. Our eternal future does not depend on how strong our faith is, but on how strong our Savior and Lord is. And He is strong! He is stronger than hunger and want, stronger than worry and fear, stronger than sin, death, and the devil.
He suffered when He went to the cross, but He was not worried. Just before He took His last breath, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). Then He was taken off the cross and closed up in the tomb, but He was not worried. Death was no match for Him, and He rose from the dead on the third day to prove it.
It is this Conqueror of sin and death who tells you: “Do not be anxious; do not worry.” If your needs and concerns are like ten enemies threatening you with pocket knives and pitchforks, God’s care is like an entire army right behind you outfitted with the best weapons and equipment. Worldly cares are scattered by the powerful promise of God’s care.
He will provide for you. If He needs to say it again and again, even every day, He will: “Do not be anxious. I have not forgotten about your needs. I know how to turn trials into blessings. I will come and help you. Have no fear!” In His care for you, God the Father already sent His Son to rescue you from eternal death. That must mean He will not forsake you in your times of need (Rom. 8:32).
And you know this to be true. You know that your cares and worries have never done anything for you. You know that God’s care for you has never failed. Even when you were anxious, even when you complained, He kept on loving you. And if He didn’t give you everything you wanted at the time, He gave you everything you needed.
God knows your needs even better than you do. He gives you His kingdom and His righteousness for your eternal life, and He gives all that you need for this body and life besides.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of Jesus and the lilies from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who walks with you by faith, who you don’t see visibly, but He is right here with you, dear fellow redeemed:
Whose shoes do you want to be in? The city of Jerusalem on the first day of the week is quite busy. Soldiers are minding their own business, probably wondering why they are guarding someone’s grave. Women are wondering who is going to move the large stone away. To their surprise angels move away the stone and proclaim the wonderful news, Christ is risen! The fear of the religious leaders has become a reality, the tomb is empty. The women not only hear this glorious news, but then they see Jesus! They tell the disciples, the ones who loved Jesus so much, and they doubted what the women told them. Thomas is nowhere to be found. So again, whose shoes do you want to be in? I think we can all feel for those disciples. We know some of the thoughts that they probably had. Their teacher was gone! He was dead! We weren’t there, we did not witness what took place, but Scripture has revealed to us what happened that Easter day. Our Savior has risen! Christ tells us directly that seeing is not believing.
Jesus’ disciples needed to see Him. Our text shows that on the evening of Easter, they are locked in a room. This is a place that they feel safe. After seeing what happened, they knew that the authorities were probably coming for them next. Remember these are disciples who said “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Some news arrives that the tomb is empty. Yet they still do not believe what they have heard.
We see in the Passion account that the disciples needed help to get to this point. They had forgotten Jesus’ teachings. Jesus had spoken plainly to them about how everything was going to be fulfilled. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Their little faith now has them locked in a room in fear of the leaders who put Jesus to death.
The other gospels have more details about that day. After the women had reported to the disciples what they discovered, Peter and John also raced to the tomb. They saw His folded up burial clothes. Jesus body was raised, yet they did not understand what was happening. They were stuck in despair. Thomas was not even in the room on that first day of the week. He did not get to rejoice in seeing His Lord. He wanted hard proof that Jesus was alive otherwise he would not believe it.
Scripture speaks very plainly to us just like Jesus spoke to His disciples. We will often ignore what Jesus says to stay in our sins. We try to appease the world, and the world will still throw us into despair. We can get to the point that our lack of faith can have us locked behind closed doors in fear too. This is what the devil wants. He wants us at that point of no return where we doubt God and we despair that we have been left alone. He points out all of the things that are going wrong in our lives. We hear the lie “If your God is a good God, why is He letting all of these bad things happen to you, surely you won’t have more than what you can bear?”
Like the disciples, we often doubt what God says. God tells us that He keeps His promises. The moment something happens in our lives that causes our world to turn upside down, we immediately doubt what God tells us. We try to find our own way of fixing the situation. The first thing we should be doing is praying to God. Our way of communicating with Him. And we should go to His Word where He shows us and tells us that He works things out for the good. We tend to not look much farther than the disaster in front of us because that doesn’t look like God’s promises.
God’s promise is that He will abide with us, provide for us, and help us. When we forget His first commandment to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, we ignore His promises. When we forget about fear, love, and trust, well now why should we believe in Him? The world tells us to look around and see that there is no God. We must take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, we will continue into the pit of despair because we throw away our only source of comfort in this life.
The disciples looked like they were going to continue to stay in that pit of despair. Maybe they would have come around at some point from hearing what the women had told them. Jesus however has a different plan. Finally, as the day ends, they get to see Him with their own eyes. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Their Lord was there and was alive! Their faith was restored! They get to see in person that their Savior has risen from the dead! They see that He is no longer in the tomb. Death was destroyed. Jesus has done all that He says He would do!
Now remember Thomas was not there that first night. The grief of the events must have been overwhelming. Thomas also said he needs that physical proof. One week later and the first thing that Jesus does after saying “Peace be with you,” is that He heads right over to Thomas. This is not only Jesus walking over to Thomas, but this is Jesus walking over to speak directly to you.
Where you lack trust, that is all Jesus had. He trusted in God that this was the plan of Salvation. Like Isaac trusting his father when Abraham was about to sacrifice him, Jesus also put His trust in God the Father. He did it perfectly and instead of being spared, He took on all your sins and died for every one of them. Without Jesus death on the cross and resurrection, the world would be right, and you would have nothing or no one to trust in. There would be no reason to believe in God keeping His promises. There would be no reason to go to church to hear and learn from Him. You would just sit at home and wait for your untimely demise. These sins of doubt and failing to trust in God, they are forgiven. When the hard events of life get you, your faith might waver, but what you see in that room where Jesus met His disciples is the truth. Your faith in Jesus Christ is not in vain. He is risen indeed! And as He speaks to Thomas, He has a message for you.
That message comes to you right here and now. You are in the year 2023 and you did not get to witness the crucifixion. The men and women who were there saw and heard what happened, yet they doubted. You were not there, but you believe it. You have a new life in Christ because He is speaking directly to you. Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You have faith because even though it has been 2,000 years since Jesus was visibly on this earth, He still comes directly to you in the Means of Grace providing you with strength every day. Jesus is still here! This is why you come to church, to hear His Word and to receive His Sacraments. This is where Jesus is present, coming to you. He has marked you as His own, He speaks His Words of comfort that you are blessed, and He personally provides you with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation at the altar. He breathes the Holy Spirit on you so that you hear this message and believe it.
We walk by a clear and confident faith because God has kept His promises. Our Savior has risen from the dead. Jesus then tells us directly that we do not have to worry or doubt. We were not present, but we are blessed because we believe. This is why Scripture is recorded. Everyone can hear the message of their salvation. Jesus came and died for all. St. John tells us that it is recorded for our hearing so that we may believe. We receive comfort that Christ has not left us. He is with us now in this life and He will reign over us forever. It is 2023 and we know that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Like Job we can confess, I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my ever-living head (ELH 351). Amen.
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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(woodcut from “Doubting Thomas” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, who judges us not by what we accomplish in our faithfulness, but by what He has done for us in His mercy, dear fellow redeemed:
I have never heard a Christian say, “I wish my faith were weaker.” Every Christian wants to have a stronger faith, a faith that will stand firm in temptation, that will endure in difficult times, that will shine brightly through this life until we reach eternal life. Today’s reading gives us an example of a faith like this, a faith that Jesus Himself describes as “great.”
The people in Jesus’ day might have expected “great faith” to be found among the religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees. Or maybe they would have looked to the dedicated priests serving day and night in the temple. Or they might have thought that the twelve disciples hand-picked by Jesus were the best examples of faith.
None of these things was the case. Just before the events of today’s reading, Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides” (Mat. 15:14), indicating that they had no faith at all. At least twice He cleared the temple courts of those who were buying and selling there, showing that the priests were negligent in their duty. And several times He rebuked the disciples for their “little faith” (Mat. 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20), when they failed to put their trust in Him.
Jesus’ announcement of a great faith comes from a most unlikely source—a Gentile woman living in the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon. Now we live in a time when everyone wants to assert his or her “rights.” “I have the right to this” and “the right to that,” and “if I don’t get what I think I deserve, I’ll be taking names and calling my lawyer!” This is not how the Canaanite woman approached Jesus.
She did not come with a power play trying to impress or intimidate Him: “I know people in high places.” She did not try to convince Him why she was worthy of His help: “I do what I can for my neighbors. I give to charity. I’m a good person.” No, she came looking for mercy. Mercy does not depend on a person’s own position or good qualities. Mercy depends on the one who has the ability to help. Mercy can’t be taken; it has to be given.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” cried the woman; “my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” And she didn’t just say it once. The form of the Greek word indicates that she kept crying out. She wouldn’t stop. This makes sense since the disciples soon came to Jesus and were begging that He send her away. So much for Jesus taking time to rest—first the woman came crying to Him and now the disciples kept complaining too!
Why didn’t Jesus just help her? Well why should He? He was a Jew sent to save the people of Israel. He told His disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman didn’t deny this. She called Him the “Son of David.” She knew where He came from. But she did not believe that disqualified her from receiving His help. What made her so certain? What is it that she based her hope on?
The very words of Jesus that seemed to disqualify her were the words she held tightly to and wouldn’t let go. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” We don’t know how Jesus said this whether gently or harshly. But how many of us would stick around if He said this to us? The Canaanite woman didn’t budge, and she didn’t try to contradict Jesus. She completely accepted what He said: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Do you see what she did? She pinned her hopes to the very words of Jesus that seemed to shut her out. She agreed that bread should not be taken away from the children of Israel. Jesus was the “Son of David,” the King of the Jews. But if there was plenty of bread for the children, which she wholeheartedly believed, then certainly there must be some crumbs for the dogs. “Oh to be a dog that could eat those crumbs—what a privilege that would be!” she said. This is when Jesus declared, “great is your faith!” and granted her request, the healing of her daughter.
So what are some of the characteristics of this woman’s faith? She did not appeal to her own worthiness, but came pleading for mercy. She did not give up, but kept crying to Jesus for help. She did not take offense when Jesus seemed to turn His back on her. She held Him to His Word, even when it appeared the door was closed. We can learn a lot from her example. But the biggest lesson is not gained by looking at her. The biggest lesson is looking where she looked.
Her eyes were on Jesus the whole time, not on herself. And when she walked away from Him, she didn’t go away thinking how strong her faith was. She walked away thinking how merciful her Savior was. The greatest error we make in pursuing a strong faith is looking inside ourselves to make it happen. We can think to ourselves, “I need to be more patient, more trusting, more accepting of God’s will, more dedicated to His Word.” And those things are certainly true.
But our faith will never get stronger because of what we do. Faith gets stronger because of what God does. The Bible says, “faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17), which means passively receiving what God gives, not doing something to get it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In our Catechism we confess the truth that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed).
If you want a stronger faith, it’s not going to come because you try harder or stay more focused on doing what is right. A stronger faith comes when you stop looking inside yourself where you will only find worry, doubt, and pride. Faith increases when you forget yourself and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus only.
That is what we do at the Divine Service each week. We don’t come thinking about what we can do for God, or making appeals for His help because of how good we have been or how worthy we are. We come with the cry, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” We beg for His mercy because we know we can’t live without it.
We remember how easily we have been led to doubt God’s Word at the slightest challenge we have faced. We think of how impatient we have been in suffering, and how quickly we have given up on prayer. We know how ready we were to question God when He did not give us exactly what we wanted and on the timetable we expected it.
But even though the devil tries to convince us that Jesus has turned His back on us, that Jesus doesn’t care, this is nothing but a lie. Today’s reading shows us that when Jesus seems to be uninterested in our troubles, that is only how it seems. Jesus did not fail to help the woman who put her trust in Him, and neither will He fail you.
When you come to Him looking for mercy, He shows you His cross. That is where mercy shines most vividly. That is where God the Father proved His mercy toward you by punishing His innocent Son for your sins instead of you. Jesus willingly did that for you. He went to the cross, so that all your worries, doubts, and pride would be atoned for. He went there so that no matter where you come from and no matter what you have done, you would be presented holy and righteous before God the Father by faith in Him.
This same Savior now gives His own body as your food and His own blood as your drink. He has not forgotten about you. He has not forsaken you. You would gladly have the crumbs that fall from His table, but He freely gives Himself for you to eat and drink in abundance. It is His presence through His Word and Sacrament that strengthens your faith. It is His presence that brings you healing and eases your burdens. It is His presence that increases your love toward God and your neighbor.
You have nothing to offer God that isn’t already His. The world is His! You are His! But He has everything to give you. Keep your eyes on Him like a child waiting for his birthday present or a dog eagerly anticipating his treat. He has given His gifts to you before, and He promises to keep giving them. Like the Canaanite woman did, you can trust His promises. Even if everyone else rejects you and you feel totally alone, Jesus does not reject you. Your cries for mercy will not go unanswered. You will not leave empty-handed. Your faith in the Lord Jesus will not be disappointed.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
The Third Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 11:2-10
In Christ Jesus, who is everything the Holy Scriptures promised He would be, dear fellow redeemed:
There are four main characters in today’s text: John the Baptizer, two of John’s disciples, and Jesus. But there were others involved besides these four. In fact, we can assume there were many others. Not long before the events of today’s text, Jesus healed a centurion’s servant without even entering his house (Luk. 7:1-10). Then He met a funeral procession leaving the city of Nain, and with a brief command, He raised a widow’s only son back to life. The evangelist Luke tells us that “this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country” (7:17). We can imagine that the size of the crowds that now followed Jesus were significant.
There was a lot of excitement in Judea and Galilee in those days. The major cities in these two Jewish territories were only about as far apart as Saude from Mason City or Cresco from Rochester—close enough for word to travel. First the strange prophet John attracted all kinds of people in the wilderness by the Jordan River. Then Jesus started preaching and performing miracles in Galilee, and great crowds followed Him.
It couldn’t be denied that John and Jesus were somehow connected, but they were not the same in appearance or in temperament. John grew up aware of the unique circumstances of his birth and of the special mission he would carry out. The son of Zechariah the priest, John studied the Scriptures and spent much of his time in the wilderness (Luk. 1:80). When he was about thirty, he began preaching a bold message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mat. 3:1).
At first, people might have gone to see him out of curiosity. “Who is this crazy preacher?” “Who is this wilderness man dressed in camel’s hair?” But as they listened to him, his words started to sink in. He pointed out how they had broken God’s law in their actions, words, and thoughts. Even tax collectors and soldiers came admitting their wrongs. And finally, the Pharisees and Sadducees also came. John had special words for them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mat. 3:7-8).
John preached so boldly and with such authority that the people wondered if he might be the Christ. John put those ideas to rest. “I baptize you with water for repentance,” he said, “but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (7:11). Someone mightier than John? The people shook with a mixture of fear and excitement. Who could this be? When would He reveal Himself?
Then Jesus came to be baptized, and John saw the Holy Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and remain on Him. From this time forward, John identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh. 1:29). The mighty One had come! But Jesus did not fit the people’s expectations. They couldn’t deny the power He had to do miracles. But His preaching and teaching didn’t boom like thunder and flash like lightning in the way they had anticipated.
Perhaps this is why not all of John’s disciples left him to follow Jesus. Even after John was imprisoned for calling out the sins of King Herod, some of his disciples continued to stick with him. When they heard about the miracles Jesus was doing, they reported them to their teacher. John sent two of them to ask Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” You can’t tell by today’s text, but by the same account in the Gospel of Luke, it seems that Jesus did not answer the question right away.
Jesus was surrounded by a great mass of people, including many with physical problems like blindness, deafness, and the inability to walk. Some were infected with disease and others were afflicted by demons. It wasn’t the rich, the royal, the famous, and the attractive that surrounded Jesus. It was the wretched, the suffering, the depressed, and the needy. Jesus healed these people, and He gave them hope.
Without directly answering their question, the disciples of John had their answer. Was Jesus the coming One? “Go and tell John what you hear and see,” said Jesus: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” When we hear this list of Jesus’ miracles, it is obvious that He must be the Son of God in the flesh. Who else could do things like this?
But there was more to what Jesus said. It was more than a list of present miracles. It was a list of past prophecies that were now being fulfilled. Isaiah prophesied that at the coming of the Messiah, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isa. 35:5-6). Isaiah also recorded these words: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (61:1).
If John’s disciples did not catch the connection between these prophecies and Jesus, we can be certain that John made it for them. It was time to set aside their personal expectations of the coming One and to trust the testimony of God’s holy Word. That’s a lesson that all of us need to learn and re-learn. When we face hardship and pain and difficulty, when we are injured or sick or distressed, we are often quick to become impatient and angry: Why do I have to deal with this? Why did it have to happen to me? Why did it have to happen right now?
It doesn’t take long for our impatience and anger to be directed at God: If You love me, God, why do You let me suffer? If You see my trouble, why don’t You help? We question why He is putting us through it, instead of trusting that He will get us through it. At the root of these struggles is a failure to trust God’s Word, a failure to put our confidence in His promises. The Lord calls us to trust what He says even when it seems like He is ignoring us or is opposed to us or is punishing us.
He said to John’s disciples, “blessed is the one who is not offended by Me,” and He says the same to you and me today. “Blessed are you if you are not offended by My lowly appearance on earth, by My humble behavior, by My suffering, crucifixion, and death. I did all these things for you, so that you would have redemption and eternal life. Blessed are you if you are not offended when I send you trials and tests, so that I might purify your faith like fine gold and draw you closer to Me. Blessed are you if you are not offended by My coming to you still through lowly means, through the ministry of weak pastors, through the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of My Supper.”
We wish Jesus would operate among us with impressive displays of power. We want a thunder and lightning Lord who puts the world in its place and makes it clear to everyone that He stands with us. In some ways, we want a John for our Lord instead of Jesus. Everybody respected bold John, even King Herod who put him in prison. But John was only a messenger, just as the Lord’s servants are today.
The Lord calls His under-shepherds to preach His Word, to point out sin through His Law and to point penitent sinners to their salvation through His Gospel. In today’s Epistle lesson (1Co. 4:1-5), Paul reminds us pastors that we are not the main event. We are only servants and stewards. It is really Jesus who is at work among us through His Word and Sacraments.
We gather to Him here like the suffering people in today’s text. We bring our sorrow, pain, and distress before Him and ask for His help and comfort. Sometimes He removes our troubles from us like He did in healing the blind, the lame, and the deaf. And sometimes He allows our suffering to continue like He did with John the Baptizer’s imprisonment.
Whatever cross Jesus calls you to bear, He promises to carry you through the trial. He comes through His Word and Sacraments to feed and fill you. Maybe you get picked on or made fun of because you stand up for what is right. He comes to strengthen you and give you courage. Maybe you are anxious about your children or grandchildren and the choices they are making. He comes to comfort you and guide you in patience and love toward them. Maybe you are grieving the loss of your good health or the health of a loved one, or you miss someone who has died. Jesus comes to assure you of His victory over sin and death, and He brings you hope for the glorious life to come.
You can be sure that He will do these things for you, because He says He will. Jesus never let a promise go unfulfilled. Paul writes that “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (1Co. 1:20). Whether you ask Him for forgiveness or a stronger faith or help in your troubles, His answer is “Yes,” always “Yes!” His suffering, death, and resurrection to save you is the proof that Jesus Keeps His Promises—every single one.
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(picture from “Witness of John the Baptist” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1972)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:6-13
In Christ Jesus, whose faithfulness does not depend on our good behavior, but on His perfect love toward us, dear fellow redeemed:
The Bible is a big book. If you have been following the two-year Bible reading plan since the year began, you are only about a quarter of the way through it. But that is to be expected of a collection of writings that covers thousands and thousands of years of human history. As much as we have in the Bible, just think how much has been left out! What we have in the Bible is what God wanted us to have, no more and no less. We can assume that every part, every detail, has a purpose, even those details that may seem unimportant or even tedious.
The apostle Paul highlights this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He wrote about the Israelites and their experiences after leaving Egypt and setting off for the Promised Land. He recounted God’s faithfulness to them and their rejection of Him (10:1-5). Then Paul wrote that the Old Testament is more than a record of history; “these things took place as examples for us,” he said. These events were just a few among many. But they were specifically recorded for our benefit. As Paul states, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.”
The first example of Israel’s sinfulness that Paul raised was how the Israelites “desired evil,” or “craved evil things.” It wasn’t long after they had been freed from slavery that the Israelites complained and thought they would be better off in Egypt than in the wilderness (Exo. 14:12). Later on they despised the food God miraculously provided them and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Num. 11:4-5). The Israelites desired what they did not have and despised what they did.
This covetous thinking was idolatry. “Idolatry” is a heavy word. When you hear that word, you might picture people worshiping idols of wood or silver or gold. Paul refers to the time when the Israelites made and worshiped a golden calf. He quotes the Old Testament book of Exodus where it describes their feasting and celebrating before this false god: “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (32:6). But how could they worship a metal calf? You and I cannot imagine doing that.
We may not do that, but we certainly have idols. Idolatry is placing one’s fear, love, or trust in anything above the true God. In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther said that “whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” What idols do you have or are you tempted to have? A way to identify them is to ask yourself what you cannot bear the thought of losing. Is it your house or your possessions? Could you live without access to the internet? Has another person become your idol? Or is it perhaps yourself? Could it be maintaining good health or pursuing your own plans that you elevate above all else? Idolatry is not just a thing of the past or a weakness of more “primitive” cultures. It is found everywhere.
Idolatry often forms in the thoughts and imaginations of an individual’s heart. But it can also catch on within a community. Think about the golden calf incident. I can’t imagine that every individual simultaneously had the idea to worship an animal statue. Rather this person followed the lead of that person who followed the lead of that person and so on. Maybe they thought to themselves: “If she’s taking part, it must be alright.” “Everybody’s doing it, so who am I to say no?” “If it’s okay with him, it’s okay with me.”
Paul provides another example of this when he refers to the unbelieving women of Moab enticing the Israelites to join them in their worship of Baal. This worship involved ritual prostitution (Num. 25). Paul plainly states the sin and its result: “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” It is difficult to go against the crowd, especially when the sin looks so appealing, or when it does not seem all that serious. Today we are tempted to go along with or look the other way regarding things like pornography use, living together outside of marriage, or any other sexual sin that the unbelieving world embraces but the holy God condemns.
Finally Paul mentions two other times when the Israelites grumbled and complained against God and His servant Moses (Num. 21 & 14 or 16). They trusted their own wisdom about things and were destroyed for this idolatry. These events “were written down for our instruction.” They are a warning to us, both of how we are tempted to sin and how God punishes sin.
As we consider these examples, it would be a mistake for us to think we are nothing like those Israelites. We want to believe we could not fall like they did. But by nature, we are no different than they were. Today’s text exposes the idolatry of our own hearts. It speaks to our prideful thinking that we are more faithful than others are, that we can keep ourselves from serious sins, that we could withstand any temptation. Paul writes, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Then he adds, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” The temptations that have overtaken you and me were not monumental, unique temptations that barely got the better of us. They were “common” temptations, ones that have ensnared many people before us and will ensnare many after us. Paul is saying that if you cannot even hold the line against these common temptations, how could you think you would fare differently than the Israelites did?
But as we are confronted with our idolatry, with our sin against the mighty God, Paul also reminds us of this: “God Is Faithful.” Perfect faithfulness is one of the special attributes of God. The Bible is full of references to His faithfulness. The LORD used this word to describe Himself as He passed before Moses on the mountain. He called Himself “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34:6).
But it’s one thing to say and another to do. God demonstrated His faithfulness by keeping His promise to send a Savior for the world of sinners. Even when the Israelites had rejected Him and turned away to other gods, His promise to them and all people remained in effect. He would send His only Son to suffer and die for all sin. If there were any questions about God’s faithfulness, those were removed when the Son of God became Man in the virgin Mary’s womb. He came to show how long and high and deep God’s love for mankind truly is.
God’s faithfulness to His promise meant that Jesus had to be punished for the Israelites’ sins and for our sins. Jesus perfectly loved and honored His heavenly Father, and yet God punished Him for our idolatry, for our setting our hearts on the things of this world. Jesus remained perfectly pure in His actions, words, and thoughts, and yet He endured the judgment of God for our sexual misdeeds. Jesus never complained about the work He was given to do, and yet He was accused for our reluctance and resentment to do what He has called us to do.
Jesus stood in for us and took our punishment because He was perfectly faithful to His Father. He would not let Himself be sidetracked. He would not put His own well-being before ours. He eagerly obeyed His Father’s commands, so that we would be covered in His righteousness. And He willingly went to the cross, so that we would be forgiven of all our sins.
But if God is so faithful to forgive our sins, why didn’t He do the same for the Israelites? Why were they destroyed? Each time the Israelites sinned against God in those grievous ways, He called them to repent. Some of them did and were spared. Others defied the holy God and were condemned. The same goes for us. If we continue in our sins and ignore God’s Word, we will face His wrath. So we pray that He humbles us through the Law, so that we repent of our sins. And we trust His faithful promise that all our sins were blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus.
“God Is Faithful.” This means that “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Some mistakenly understand this as saying that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But that puts the focus more on your inner strength, on your effort, than on God’s faithfulness. Paul is not telling you here that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” (You probably have more than you can handle every single day!)
The inspired words of Paul comfort you with the assurance that “God will not give you more than He can handle.” Isn’t that what the text says? “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability… He will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” God provides the way out. He gets you past the temptations. He is the one who guards and keeps you, so the devil, the world, and your own flesh do not get the better of you. And when you do fall, He is faithful to call you back to Him through His Word to be cleansed by His holy blood and covered again in His righteousness.
In a letter to a fellow pastor, Paul reminded him that “if we are faithless, [God] remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2Ti. 2:13). This is your God, the true God, the God who is and ever will be faithful to His gracious promises toward you.
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(picture from “The Golden Calf” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Sexagesima Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9
In Christ Jesus, who did what only He could do in offering Himself for the sins of the world, so that we might be saved not by our own doing but by His grace, dear fellow redeemed:
“Mom/Dad, look what I can do!” Parents are used to hearing their kids say this when they learn a new skill. Maybe it’s figuring out how to swing, how to catch a ball, or how to ride a bike. Or maybe they have put a puzzle together or learned to play a song on the piano. Sometimes the words, “Look what I can do!” come right before some dangerous or destructive activity that parents would rather not witness, like jumping off the top of a couch or attempting to hit a baseball over the house.
Except for those last two examples, we praise our kids for learning new things. We want them to develop useful skills and be successful in their endeavors. At the same time, we temper our praise when our children’s success leads them to boast. “Look what I can do! I bet so-and-so can’t do that!” “I am faster and stronger than everybody else!” “Nobody is as good as me, are they?” It is good to encourage our kids, and we want them to be confident. But there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence does not have to be self-serving, but arrogance always is.
Our society today is not as concerned about love for neighbor as it is about love for self. Young people are taught to embrace who they are, especially if who they are contradicts God’s plan for the body and life. Every child is told he is exceptional. Every child is told that her opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s. Every child is promised that he will succeed whether or not he gives his best effort or any kind of effort at all. Not much is said about humility, sacrifice, and working hard for the good of others.
With these kinds of cultural influences, it should not surprise us that the social media presence of many people is more about self-promotion than anything else. Not many will post pictures of how they look when they first roll out of bed. No, it takes many poses and pictures before getting the one that is just right, the version of us that we want the public to see. This is the “selfie” era, the “look-what-I’ve-done,” the “look-how-good-I-am” era.
What if the apostle Paul carried around a smartphone like we do? What pictures would he have taken? What videos do you think he would have captured? In today’s reading, Paul shared a long list of his experiences. When he was verbally or physically attacked by a crowd for preaching the Gospel, would he or an associate have sent out a video clip, along with #ungrateful, #stayawayfromthisplace, #unbelieverswillbejudged, or #standupforJesus? Or after he was beaten, whipped, or stoned, would he have tweeted out pictures of his bruises and wounds to win people’s compassion? Would he have looked for social media fame through “likes,” “shares,” and praise from others?
Paul had plenty of crazy experiences to talk about, but he didn’t list them in today’s text to gain followers for himself. He brought them up to counter false teachers who claimed to be more than Paul and to remind the Corinthian Christians of his call from Jesus to speak His Word. So Paul said if these false teachers want to talk about credibility, Paul with his qualifications and trials had far surpassed them. Those false teachers wanted the people to think that Paul had done his missionary work for his own benefit. But in effect Paul said, “Who would go through all the terrible things I have for personal glory?”
This is like the skeptics who claim that Jesus’ disciples lied about His resurrection. They assume the disciples stole away Jesus’ body and then preached the resurrection as a way to gain followers for themselves. It certainly happens—and happens often—that people lie for personal gain. But how many people stick with a lie when it means being ridiculed, beaten up, and killed for that message? The apostles of Jesus, including Paul, experienced great affliction and pain for preaching the Gospel. And they continued preaching it all the way to their violent deaths. People don’t endure all that for something they know is a lie.
But beyond his personal credibility through the suffering he endured, Paul reminded the Corinthians that his work was Jesus’ work. Paul said if there was anything he himself could boast about, it was his own weaknesses. “Those weaknesses are what I have contributed,” said Paul. “Those are what I am responsible for.”
We don’t typically talk like that. The current presidential candidates of all parties are a good example of how we think and talk. They are very eager to showcase their strengths and successes, but they are reluctant to mention any weaknesses. On the other hand, they have no trouble pointing out the weaknesses of others. The same goes for us. When we have a dispute with someone, we magnify their faults while minimizing our own wrongs. Or we think how obvious it is that we should be praised or promoted compared to those around us who have so many character flaws. This sort of interaction with our neighbors is not confidence; it is arrogance.
We can cry, “Look what I can do!” till we are blue in the face. But that doesn’t and it won’t make us any better in God’s eyes. For as much as we can do, there is so much that we can’t—and so much that we have failed to do. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul wrote about those who like to boast how well they have kept God’s law. He said, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (2:23). We really can’t boast in our righteousness, unless we are totally righteous. The guy standing barefoot in the snow is hardly better off with one sock on than the guy who has none. When we boast how good we are compared to others, we are still in no better shape before God than anybody else.
God is not impressed by how good we are or how beautiful or how smart or how rich. These things may win us something in the world, but they win nothing from God. In fact God is the one who gives these things. He gives each of us our individual qualities and characteristics, so that we might humbly use them for the benefit of others and for His glory. We have nothing good to boast about that God did not produce in us and through us. With Paul, the only thing we can really boast about in ourselves is our own weaknesses, our own sins.
But God hasn’t left us stuck in those sins. He planned a way to free us, a way that required great humility, a tremendous sacrifice, and terrible work. God sent His only Son to be the goodness and righteousness that we could never produce ourselves. He could have come and exposed all our sins for everyone to see. He could have shown how foolish our boasting is. Instead He quietly gathered all our sins to Himself. He humbly let Himself be accused in our place. He let everyone attack Him and boast about beating Him. He went to the cross, to a shameful death in our place, so that each of our sins would be wiped away and salvation would be ours. “Look what I can do for you,” He said. And He did.
In a few minutes, we will sing these words, “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast / Save in the death of Christ, my God” (ELH 308, v. 2). Our boast is not in ourselves, in what we can do. Our boast is in Jesus, in what He has done. Paul told the Corinthians that by God’s grace, “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1Co. 1:30-31).
But we do not only boast about what Jesus has done, we boast about what He still does for us. Paul said he was bothered by a thorn in the flesh, something that troubled him greatly. We imagine it was some sort of physical problem, but we don’t know for sure. We can relate in some way to Paul’s trouble. We are also affected in various ways by things that afflict us. It may be a physical problem that makes it difficult to do what we want to do. It may be a mental struggle or some kind of addiction that troubles us daily.
We seek to remove these thorns by therapy and medication and trying to will ourselves out of the problem. But when those things are not effective, we are not always ready to leave our thorns in God’s hands. We want the problem or pain to go away, and we are not sure that God will do it. In Paul’s case, the Lord did not remove the thorn. There was a reason for it. That thorn in the flesh reminded Paul of his weakness, along with his need for his Savior’s grace and power. The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
We often have doubts. We think there is no hope. We don’t think we can go another step carrying the burdens we carry. And Jesus says, “Look What I Can Do. Trust in Me. I died and rose again for you. I will not forsake you. I will not cast you out. In My Word and Sacraments I will come to you. I will help you and strengthen you. You cannot make this right, but I can, and I will.” Therefore you and I can gladly boast of our weaknesses as Paul did and put our total confidence in the gracious and powerful promises of our Lord.
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(portion of Eustache Le Sueur painting, “The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus,” 1649)