The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who never leaves us hungry but who fills us up abundantly, dear fellow redeemed:
Sometimes when I skip breakfast before going to church, I can often find myself saying that “I am starving” when it is time for lunch. We have other sayings that go along with hunger. One I remember hearing is always, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Well, I’m pretty sure that I am not actually that hungry, and I know I definitely could not or would not want to eat a horse. And I also know that like the people in our text, I’ve never been to the point of where I thought I might collapse because of my hunger. That is where these people are. They have been with Jesus for three days and Jesus says that they are at the point that if they go to find food, they won’t make it.
Leading up to this point, the crowd following Jesus had become larger and larger. Jesus has been showing the power that he has over the diseases of the world. He has healed people who are sick. He brought a little girl back to life. The disciples witnessed him walk on water. This is a big deal. The people of Jesus day have only heard about God working miracles in the Old Testament when he used the prophets. Now here was Jesus, a man from Nazareth who was performing all of these signs and wonders. Only a couple of chapters before this account, Mark tells us that Jesus had already had a big crowd seated before him. There was over 5,000 people that Jesus fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. They picked up twelve little baskets full of leftovers, there was more than enough food. As Jesus shows his power to provide, and after he does a miracle of healing someone’s deaf ears, another crowd has gathered.
Now as Jesus is looking at this crowd with compassion about their needs, the disciples yet ask, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?” Jesus has shown them that before this they have nothing to worry about. The disciples have been watching Jesus perform miracle after miracle. We already listed what he has been doing. Jesus has been healing people’s physical ailments, and he performed this miracle already! What is 4,000 if he has already fed 5,000! So why did they respond, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?”
The disciples continue to doubt Jesus’ power, they were tested for a second time, knowing the outcome of what Jesus could do, and they failed. Can you imagine the patience that Jesus must have had with them? They saw a little girl brought back from the dead and over 5,000 people be fed by Jesus. Yet they failed. This place is too desolate Jesus, there is nothing here to feed the people. The disciples had forgotten what Jesus was capable of and this isn’t at all surprising as we also forget what Jesus is capable of.
We don’t fully understand how much compassion God has for us. He tells us not to worry about what will happen to us, by telling us that he will provide for our physical needs. God created the heavens and the earth. St. Matthew records, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt 6:25-26) But we are often anxious and worrisome. We do not wait for God to feed us when we know that he can and he will but instead we look for more instant gratification. We start to think that we do not have enough stuff. We start to covet what our neighbor has. We might even overindulge even though we know that it could put us behind with our expenses.
When we take these matters into our own hands, we are doubting God’s care for us. We can hear what Jesus tells us, but as life gets hard, as budgets can get tight, we fail Jesus’ test too. Like the disciples, we doubt what God tells us in his Word, which puts us into despair. As we creep into despair, that doubt that we have, then turns into unbelief. How can something so simple turn into something so severe? That is what the devil wants. He wants us to doubt God. What are we fully doubting? Jesus only tells us the truth; He has never told a lie. As humans though the devil continues to use that same temptation. “Did God really say…” This can seem very small. Unfortunately, that is all it takes. One little doubt and we can start to think, “Well if God can’t do this, then what can He really do for me?”
The disciples did not understand the amount of compassion that Jesus had and neither do we. Jesus with great compassion, provided for the group of people with a great miracle. He fed them, saving their physical health, and providing for them. Jesus put the disciples doubt to rest. He puts our doubts to rest too. He provides our daily bread, all that we need for this life on earth. And He has also given Himself as the Bread of Life from heaven. As Jesus is able to feed our physical bodies, his great compassion stretched farther than that. He laid down His life for us. He paid for our sins, and then rose from the dead. Jesus has made sure that we will be provided for here on earth and forever in eternity.
Jesus wants to satisfy your spiritual hunger, which is deeper and more pressing than your physical hunger is. He continually feeds you through the Means of Grace. We receive this feeding every Sunday. As you come to church and listen to his Word, there he is with you. God’s Word gives you the strength to carry on when you think that you are on the verge of collapse. Your souls need to stay fed. When your souls get hungry, that is when your soul can fall into temptation which can lead to unbelief. As you continue to gather with your families with devotions and prayer, your souls continue to stay nourished. This isn’t just to make us feel good, this is for our survival. Our lives here on this earth are very short compared with living for eternity. He feeds us with his Word as it shows the life he lived in our place. Jesus shows us that we can’t make it on our own. All we can do is collapse on the way. Jesus is the one who has compassion and feeds us.
Jesus feeds us with his body and blood at the altar. Here, this holy food is taken and distributed to each of us hungry sinners. This is Christ coming to us. He comes to forgive us our sins, to assure us that those sins of coveting, those sins of doubt are not counted against us. Along with this medicine for our souls, Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us. He doesn’t tell us to receive it occasionally. Or to receive it when we feel like it. Jesus tells us to receive of it often. We need this holy nourishment. This is a gift that we receive not based on our merits, but from Christ, who had compassion, who did not want to see us starve for eternity.
The people ate until they were satisfied. Jesus didn’t feed them a little morsel. He fed them so that they were full. It wasn’t partial mercy. God feeds us in abundance. He makes sure that we will be satisfied here on this earth by providing us with everything that we need. This is what we confess in the meaning of the Apostles’ creed. He provides for us clothing, food, land, and all that we own. All that we need for our bodily life. When life gets difficult, it can be hard for us to find the positives of life that we have. When there is financial burden, a loss of a loved one, that doubt will try to creep back in.
Our text shows that God does not abandon us. He had so much compassion that he gave us the ultimate gift that we never deserved. He gave up his own Son so that we would be saved. When our journey on this world is over, God shows us that he has provided for our eternal lives as well. Our pains in this life, they are only in this life. They will soon cease to exist. Jesus tells us how he has prepared a place for us. His compassion is beyond our comprehension. He promises that someday, there will be no suffering, there will be no pain, and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, because He has fed us.
The next time that we are hungry, more than likely soon as our service ends today, it is good to remember how Jesus feeds us with everything we need. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has had compassion on us. He had so much compassion that he gave his life for us. He will continue to provide for us even when we think that we don’t have enough. He gives us all that we need. We don’t deserve anything, yet he has given us everything. He will continue to bless us with the physical and spiritual things that we need in this life until he calls us home. Where we will eat at the heavenly banquet, forever and ever. 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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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
Thanksgiving – Vicar Anderson homily
Text: Psalm 92
In Christ Jesus, who graciously gives you everything needed for body and soul and to whom we owe proper thanks and praise, dear fellow redeemed:
In 1621 one year after English immigrants settled a small village in Plymouth Massachusetts, William Bradford organized a celebratory feast following the pilgrim’s first successful corn harvest. He also invited those Native American allies who had helped them learn to cultivate corn to join in the feast. This Thanksgiving marks 400 years since that first autumn harvest feast took place. However, it wasn’t until 1863 in the midst of the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
Although Thanksgiving has Christian roots, today it is primarily celebrated as a secular holiday. In fact, for many people, Thanksgiving is no more than a day to get together with family, eat an abundance of food and then maybe sit down in front of the football game until they doze off. Then it usually culminates in them eating their fill in pie and leftovers again later that evening. Some only recognize Thanksgiving as the day before the real holiday, a day highly revered in today’s society, “Black Friday.”
Most people will be thankful around their dinner table this Thanksgiving, but to whom are they giving their thanks? Where do they think all of their blessings and gifts come from? Christians know that everything in their life comes from God and that “it is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Ps. 92:1).
The first reason it is good to give thanks is because our all-powerful Lord is owed it, and the second is to show us that we are dependent upon Him and can rely on Him for everything we need. Although we know this truth we also forget it and it can only lead to an empty kind of thankfulness.
The Lord is always at work in our lives, for our benefit and for the benefit of all people. Occasionally a sunrise will catch our eyes and cause us to admire its beauty, but do we always stop think about how the sun does not rise without God’s providence. If the Lord decided today that the sun wasn’t going to rise, it wouldn’t, and all life on earth would quickly perish. In this and other ways, we become so accustomed to His mighty works. The Lord’s extraordinary works become ordinary in our eyes.
The works of His hands include; our home, our family, our faith in Him, and much more. As Luther’s explanation to the first Article tells us, “God has provided us with all we need to support this body and life.” The Lord has created us by giving us a mother and father, determining the proper time in which we would live our lives on earth. Not only this, “He also guards and protects us from all evil out of His purely divine goodness and mercy, that we are duty bound to thank, praise, serve and obey Him” (SC, 1st Art.).
As Christians we usually emphasize our duty to obey the Lord’s commandments and to serve our neighbors, but how are we doing in our duty to thank and praise Him? Too often we become caught up in our important lives that we forget to give our Lord the thanks He is due. When our lives are relatively trial free, it can be easy to become complacent in our thanks.
Think of how rare it is to go a single day without clean drinking water in our homes or to have food on our table for dinner. Or, how it isn’t until our heat goes out that we begin to be very thankful for a working furnace. We may spend a few days being thankful for heat, but sadly it doesn’t take long for us to expect that furnace to kick in, maintaining that comfortable 70-degree home. There are many things in life that the Lord provides us with that we take for granted and forget to thank Him for.
Had the Lord never made His mighty works known to us in His Word they would have remained hidden from our eyes. We would have been stuck in our thankless state, unaware of the greatest treasure given to us, faith in our Lord and Savior.
You were brought to faith because His Word called you. Your parents heard and believed God’s Word and brought you to the Baptismal font. There you were washed and cleansed and your faith was born. This work of the Holy Spirit was for you, so that your heart would be awakened to a new life of faith in your Lord (John 3:5).
Through His Word, God has revealed to us how He has saved all people from eternal destruction. He chose a way, contrary to human reasoning, to free us from our bondage to sin. Our Lord became a man and lived out His life on the earth. To many people Jesus seemed like an ordinary man living a pretty sad and pitiful life, a life that ultimately led to Him being hung on a wooden cross. In what appears to be a pathetic event in history God brings about His most extraordinary achievement, Jesus’ blood, spilt upon the cross, cleansing the entire world of all sin and guilt (1 John 1:7).
Our gracious Lord gave His life for us and He knows our weaknesses, how in times of trial we tend to grumble rather than be thankful, how in good times we can be so distracted that we forget to stop and give Him thanks. The Lord thanked His father countless times in His life; where you have failed to thank God for things, His perfect thankfulness counts as yours. His blood covers all your sins of selfishness and self-centeredness. You are fully forgiven because of what your Savior has done for you.
He secured salvation on the cross for you and rose on the third day to show His victory over sin, death and the devil. Now He has also planted you in His house where this same life and salvation comes to you. The Lord has blessed you with a church that holds to His truth, where His Word is preached and His Sacraments are administered. In His house He changes your heart into one of thanks, making you glad to hear His Word. Here His Word reminds you of all He has done, reminding you of His love for you.
Much like the pilgrims at Plymouth who cultivated and cared for that first corn harvest, God’s Word and Sacraments cultivate you. In His Word He continues to show you the works of His hands, making you like a mighty cedar tree, with a strong foundation and flourishing branches. His body and blood strengthen your faith, helping you overcome the storms of your sinful flesh. Like the palm tree you are rooted in His means of grace, which enable you to withstand the strongest winds of the world and devil that batter against you.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” This Thanksgiving Day, and each new morning and night, let us remember that all we have comes from the Lord. The world will continue to foolishly thank themselves for their blessings and good fortune, but we will wisely thank our Lord! 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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The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gently guides us, knows our need, and well provides us (ELH #177, v. 1), dear fellow redeemed:
“I shouldn’t have to ask! You should just know what I need!” Have you ever said this to someone? Has anyone ever said it to you? Most married couples have experience with this. One person is shocked that the other could be so clueless. The other is surprised that he is expected to be able to read minds. The only way out of a dilemma like this is not sarcasm, not shouting, not tears. Believe it or not, the only way out is actual communication!
A healthy relationship requires communication. Communication is a two-way street. One person speaks, and the other person listens. One expresses a need, and the other responds. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. We express our needs and troubles to Him, and He hears us. He promises that when we ask, He will give; when we seek, we will find; and when we knock, He will open (Mat. 7:7).
But why should we have to pray? Doesn’t God know what we need without our asking Him? He certainly does, but that does not mean prayer is a waste of time. If prayer is a waste of time, then Jesus wasted a lot of time, because Jesus often prayed. His disciples noticed this about Him. On one occasion when Jesus had finished a time of prayer, one of the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luk. 11:1). Then Jesus gave them a basic framework for prayer, which we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”
In this prayer, Jesus taught us to pray for our earthly needs with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this petition, we acknowledge that our heavenly Father has the power to give us what we need. We also acknowledge that we don’t have this power. But is that really the case? It seems as though we are able to obtain on our own what we need for this life.
If I need a home, I can build one using materials found in the natural world. If I need clothing, there are various ways to produce it. If I need food, I can grow it, hunt for it, or buy it. Why do I need to ask God for the things that I can get myself? By teaching us this petition, Jesus wants us to recognize that although we have a part to play in harvesting and shaping goods for ourselves, they are ultimately gifts from God.
Where would we be if God stopped sending rain? Where would we be if He covered up the light of the sun? Where would we be if He took away all the trees? It is clear that the part we play in getting our daily bread is very small compared to what God does. We see this illustrated in today’s text. Nobody prompted Jesus to feed the crowd. As far as we know, no one begged Him for food. Jesus knew their need. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said, “because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.”
He knew they would not have the strength to get home if He sent them away. So He put the concern to His disciples. Even though they had previously witnessed His feeding of five thousand men from five loaves of bread and two fish, they did not bring that up here. Why didn’t they? How could that not be on their minds? It’s probably because they never knew when Jesus would perform a miracle.
I’m sure there were times they went without, days when they wished they had more food. And Jesus did not just snap His fingers and make bread appear. Maybe they, too, were hungry and tired along with the crowd. Maybe they were irritated and uncomfortable in the heat, and Jesus was asking them to do something they could not do.
But it was something He could do. When Jesus learned they had seven loaves of bread and a few fish, He had the crowd recline on the ground. Then He gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. Then He blessed the fish and had these distributed. The entire crowd of four thousand men, along with women and children (Mat. 15:38), had their fill of this food—so much so that seven large baskets of fragments were collected after the meal.
Now wouldn’t it be silly if the people who brought the seven loaves of bread and the fish took credit for everyone being fed? And wouldn’t it be offensive if the disciples went around bragging about how many people they had served? Isn’t it just as silly and offensive when we act like all our success on earth is due to our own hard work, our own intelligence, and so on? Sometimes we chalk up our success to “good fortune.” But the credit and glory should really go to our gracious God.
This is what we do when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We honor the Almighty God, the Maker and Preserver of all good things. God does not need to be reminded to give us the things we need. But we need to be reminded that He is the Giver, and there is no good apart from Him. And we need to remember to thank Him for His gifts. His gifts are not dependent on our thanks, or else we would probably have nothing. But only the arrogant or the rude refuse to give thanks when great gifts are given.
Our God knows exactly what we need—not just us as a people, but us as individuals. He knows what you need. He knows when you are in need of help and comfort and encouragement. And He also knows when you are in need of chastisement and training. He does not automatically give you everything you ask for. What you ask for might not be good for you, even if you think it is. What you need might actually be the opposite of what you ask for, or it might be something you haven’t even considered.
Jesus knew that His disciples needed to be presented with a problem they could not solve. He knew that their faith in Him was weak and needed strengthening. Even though they had witnessed Him perform miracle after miracle, they did not fully understand who He was and why He came. They were focused on earthly kingdoms and earthly glory. Jesus was focused on giving Himself as the atoning sacrifice for sinners. The disciples thought the main thing they lacked was bread. Jesus knew the main thing they lacked was faith.
So Jesus tested them, and then He showed them again that when He is present there is no need to worry. We need to be tested and taught like this as well. The Lord tests us through pain and trial and loss to teach us not to rely on ourselves but to trust in Him. We cannot get by on our own. We need to be shown our severe limitations. We need to know our weaknesses. We need to recognize how thoroughly sin has worked its way through us, and how deserving we are of death.
And we also need to know that the Lord still looks upon us with compassion. We need to know that “with the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption” (Psa. 130:7, NKJV). We need to know that He did not turn His back on us because of our sin, but that He gave Himself to pay for our sin.
The world’s most pressing want or desire is not the forgiveness Jesus won. Ask many people, and they will say our most pressing need is food for the starving, or peace for the nations at war, or justice for the hurting. But the world’s most pressing need is not these temporary things. As Moses reminded the people of Israel, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3). What the world needs most, what each one of us needs most, is God’s Word of grace and forgiveness.
And Jesus knows this. That’s why He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which we are cleansed of our sins. That’s why He appoints pastors to serve His people and speak His absolution for their sins. That’s why He established the Sacrament of the Altar, so that the faithful might kneel before Him and receive His body and blood for the remission of their sins.
Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper bears a striking resemblance to the feeding of the four thousand. At the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the people gathered around Him. At the institution of His Supper, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples (Mat. 26:27). And just as He blessed the fish before it was distributed, we also bless the wine with His own words (1Co. 10:16). Then we distribute His body with the bread and His blood with the wine.
The great crowd was completely satisfied with the bread and fish Jesus gave them. And we are completely satisfied when we come to the Lord’s Table. We trust that when we eat His body and drink His blood, we receive exactly what He promises—the full and free forgiveness of all our sins. There was no limit to the amount of people Jesus could have fed in the wilderness. And there is no limit to the amount of sinners Jesus wants to feed and cleanse with His own body and blood.
Jesus Knows Our Need. This is why we pray for His blessings. He knows what we need better than we do. In His compassion, He freely and abundantly provides for the needs of our body and soul. He teaches us to ask for these gifts with confidence and to believe that He will always give us what is best for us. We give thanks that He makes the impossible possible for the people He so dearly loves.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Last Supper” by Juan de Juanes, 1507-1579)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gives more than we ask for or could even imagine, dear fellow redeemed:
Two farmers planted their crops and closely watched the progress of their growth. One of them worried every step of the way. First he worried that the ground would dry out, so the seed could be planted. Then he worried that the plants would get the right amount of rain and sunshine. Rarely were the conditions on any given day perfect. If it was sunny and hot, he worried about the plants having enough moisture. If it was sunny and cool, he worried about slow growth. If it began to rain, he worried about too much or too little falling. He often thought about his bad fortune when things weren’t looking so good. There was not much joy in his work.
The other farmer considered all these factors, but he realized that hardly any of them were in his control. He had been at it long enough to know that the crop almost always turned out—some years a little better and some years a little worse. He didn’t get too excited by the highs or too depressed by the lows. Farming hadn’t made him rich, but it was a good way of life. He enjoyed his work.
The difference between these two men could be chalked up to personality—one was more easy-going, the other a worrier. But the difference could also be that one relied on the Lord to provide for his needs, while the other relied on himself. If your livelihood and success depended entirely on you, of course you would be full of worry and stress! But if you know that the living God cares for you, His dear child, you will confidently look for blessings from His hand.
We see a wonderful example of the Lord’s care in today’s Gospel lesson. A great crowd had been with Him for three days and had even followed Him into the wilderness. Any food they had brought with them was all but gone. But the text does not say that the people approached Jesus about their hunger.
They did not have to ask Jesus to feed them, because He already knew. His care for them came from His own heart of love. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said. “And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Not only was he aware of their hunger. He was aware that some had further to travel than others. He knew these people, and He cared for them deeply.
He wanted His disciples to have the same care for the people. He wanted them to love these neighbors of theirs and to participate in their help. But all they could produce was seven loaves of bread. How could such a small amount feed four thousand men? Reasonably speaking, it couldn’t. There probably wouldn’t even be one crumb available for each person who was present.
But God, as the Bible says, “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). We so often forget that. We assume that most everything in our lives depends on ourselves. This causes us to despair when things go bad or to be full of pride when things go well. We forget that it is the Lord who provides.
If we do well at our work, we should remember that God has given us the strength, the mental capacity, and the character traits to do a good job. This is what we recite in the First Article of the Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them” (Small Catechism). If God did not give and preserve these qualities, we could not do anything. Our success comes entirely from Him.
But we don’t always succeed in our work. Does that mean the Lord has failed to provide for us, or that He has given up on us? We know this is not the case. He cares for us. Because He cares for us, He knows exactly what we need. He knows when to bless by giving and when to bless by withholding.
Sometimes He withholds because it would not be good for us to succeed. We don’t see the trouble ahead, but He does. He may also withhold to teach us patience and endurance, or to get us to step up and work harder. Whether we receive little or plenty, we should be thankful for the portion we have and use it to the glory of God.
Jesus here also teaches us how to respond to the gifts of God. What did He do before breaking apart the seven loaves and giving them to His disciples to distribute? He gave thanks. He gave thanks for seven loaves of bread and a few small fish as He looked upon a crowd of thousands. Proportionally that would be something like giving thanks to God for one grain of rice on an otherwise empty plate. No matter the amount of the gift, we learn from Jesus to be thankful and to give thanks. Seven loaves of bread were better than none; they were something. And the Lord knew how to turn them into much, much more.
What are some of the things in your life that are easy to take for granted but are great gifts from God? Your family, for one, and your house and health and job. Any of us here can open our cupboards and see how God provides food. We can open our closets and see how God provides clothing. We can open our contact list or directory and see how God provides friends.
God typically does not give the bare minimum—He blesses us in abundance. The crowd of four thousand men ate their fill of bread and fish, and there were still seven baskets left over! In the same way, our homes are filled with good things, enough to keep us happy and satisfied for a long time.
What is our response to these gifts? Imagine if the crowd of four thousand was enjoying its miraculous lunch, and one after another started to complain and ask for more. “Could we get a little butter for this bread?” “How about some salt?” “Is there anything for dessert?” By these demands for more, the people would seem discontent and ungrateful.
How is it for you? Are you content with the gifts the Lord has given you? If you are, how do you show it? Do you remember to thank Him for what you have? One of the best times to thank the Lord is when you take time out of your day to eat. Here the Lord is providing you with the nourishment you need to continue your work. Without food and drink you could not survive.
So you ask Him to bless the food before you that it may benefit your body and strengthen you. Some of you use the “Thank You Prayer.” It is a great prayer that comes directly from Scripture. Notice that this prayer is not simply saying thanks for the food. It is thanking the Lord for His goodness and His ongoing mercy that accompanies us into eternity: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”
The Lord is good to us in so many ways, we cannot keep track of all of them. His earthly gifts aren’t even the best part of His care! The best part of our Father’s care is what He accomplished for us through His Son. Jesus’ greatest work was not turning seven loaves of bread into food for thousands. His greatest work was giving Himself up as the sacrificial Lamb on the cross and rising again from the dead in glory.
This unmatchable gift of Jesus means that our sins are no longer counted against us. Whenever we have worried that everything depended on our efforts, or despaired because our hard work did not pay off, or become prideful because of our success, or failed to give thanks to God in daily prayer, He declares us forgiven of these sins through the blood of Christ. Today is a new day, a fresh opportunity, to set aside those worries, put our trust totally in Him, and thank Him for His blessings both great and small.
God is not a vengeful overlord who will punish us for our failures. Nor does He award His gifts based on our merit. Nobody deserves the good things He gives. But He still has compassion on the crowd. He still provides for the needs of all people—and especially His dear children—on account of His loving care. If you are in need, He wants you to pray for His help. If He has given you plenty, He wants you to share with those who have little. If you have what you need but not all you want, He encourages you to pray for contentment.
The Lord loves you with a tremendous love, and He promises to provide for your needs. Jesus said, “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—what you need for this body and life—will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33). When His Word is your priority, you will find like the crowd did that all your earthly needs will be taken care of.
Then you can go about your work with joy and thankfulness. Joy in knowing that our compassionate Lord is eager to give such gifts, and thankfulness for His abundant blessings.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, God in the flesh, who fed the people by miraculous means, and who still fills hungry stomachs—and souls—today, dear fellow redeemed:
Much of human history is characterized by faithlessness and fear. We see this even in the first humans, Adam and Eve, who decided to go their own way and then tried to hide from the LORD. When people turn away from God and trust in their own plans and abilities, the world does not become better, but worse.
In the 1800s, some began to sound the alarm that the human population would soon outpace food production and lead to an international crisis. Others took this warning and shaped it into the horrible eugenics campaigns of the early 1900s. These programs were geared toward stopping the growth of certain portions of the population, especially through the sterilization of women. The targets of these programs were most often the poor and people of races that were considered inferior. These things happened in America and were sanctioned by the highest levels of government.
But as our country’s population increased in the last century, so did food production. Today, we have such an abundance of grain in America that we turn it into fuel and sell it to other countries. But there is still plenty of sin to go around. Many continue to work at curbing population growth, particularly through the killing of the unborn and the elderly. At the same time, others selfishly store up the plenty they have and ignore the needy. Still more believe they have the right to be as wasteful and reckless as they please with God’s good gifts.
They sin who think that whether or not we survive is in our hands. They also sin who think nothing about the Source of their earthly goods. Today’s Gospel lesson teaches us to set aside our fear and faithlessness and to see how The Lord Provides.
Should the crowd gathered around Jesus be criticized because they failed to plan for their trip into the wilderness? Isn’t it “Survival 101” to make sure you have an adequate supply of food and water before you go somewhere remote? We certainly don’t want to tempt God or expect our food to appear out of thin air. But the crowd was guilty of neither of these things. They were so eager to be with Jesus and listen to His teaching, that they hardly noticed their hunger. They were doing what Jesus commanded in His Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). They looked to Jesus, and He supplied what they needed.
Our text does not say that the people asked Jesus for food. It says He had compassion on them. He recognized their need. He did not want to send them away hungry, because they would faint on the way. But where would the food come from? It was a “desolate place.” The land could not supply what the people’s stomachs demanded.
If a crowd of hungry people were out in the wilderness today, what solutions might be offered for the problem? Those concerned with overpopulation might say, “Send the people on their way, and nature will sort out the fit from the weak.” Some might make the wealthier members of the crowd responsible for the poorer ones and task a few with going to buy food for all. Others might fling up their hands like the disciples did and say there is no solution to the problem.
From our human perspective, there is no easy fix in a situation like this. We don’t have to look very far for examples of hunger and suffering in the world. There are vast amounts of people who do not know where they will find their next meal. There are even people like this in our own communities. We can understand why some might think overpopulation is a cause of these problems and take steps to reduce the population. But “two wrongs don’t make a right.” We can also recognize the appeal of wealth redistribution, so that everyone has the exact same. But wherever that has been forced on a people, the result is that almost all are impoverished, and none are motivated to work hard.
Humankind will never find solutions for all the world’s problems. Until the end of time, there will be hunger, there will be violence and war, there will be sickness and trouble. All these are effects of sin in the world. Naturally, the non-Christian and the Christian will address these problems in different ways. Non-Christians see these problems and think progress and change depend entirely on their own efforts. Christians recognize that they do not have the power to set everything right in the world, and they look to the merciful God.
“But what has God done to solve the problems in the world?” You can imagine hearing that question. People want to know why there is hunger and other troubles if God has the power to help. So why doesn’t He? None of us knows the mind of the Lord. We cannot know for sure where and how He chooses to work.
What we do know is that He is a gracious and merciful God (Ex. 34:6). We know that His powerful Word is working to uphold and sustain creation (Heb. 1:3). We know that “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). We know that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6), so that His children are drawn closer to Him. It would not be good for us to get everything we wanted. If we did, then we would forget about God (Prov. 30:9). The Lord also lets our neighbors be in need, so that we have opportunities to show love to them.
If we have the attitude that we won’t take charity from anyone, and that we can make it on our own, don’t you think it is likely that we will feel the same way toward God? Regarding our physical needs, God has made it nearly impossible for us to go it alone. How do you make money? You need to be employed by someone, or have someone buy a product you are selling. How do you get food? You could hunt for what you need and have a big garden, but probably you will stop by the grocery store, which requires a long chain of people to get food on the shelf. How do you have support in the sad and difficult times of life? Often this comes from those around you who have experienced troubles of their own.
We were born to be in community, and we were born again (baptized) to become part of a Christian congregation. God provides for us both physically and spiritually through the efforts and hands of others. When we are not sure how to feed our families, God gives us kind neighbors to help us. When we are grieving, He gives us compassionate friends to comfort us. When we are burdened by our guilt and weaknesses, He sends us pastors to announce His gracious forgiveness and to distribute His life-giving food.
When you consider how much God has blessed you in your life through the hands of others, you will no longer criticize Him for what He has not done. Look at the family and friends you have. Look at how He has protected you from serious harm. Look at the ability He has given you to work. Look at the free and prosperous country where you live. In your sin, you do not deserve even seven loaves of bread and a few fish, but the Lord has blessed you many times over—so much that you can’t even remember it all.
Then why worry? Why “be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Mt. 6:31). Your heavenly Father knows what you need (v. 32). He has not forgotten about you. Even in your suffering, He has not forsaken you. He is with you even when you hit rock-bottom. He helps you get through what you could not get through on your own. The Lord does not require you to fix the problems in your life, much less the problems that plague the world. Instead He teaches you to look to Him, to trust Him. He provides for you.
He provides for you through others, just as He provides for others through you. King David wrote in Psalm 37, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing” (vv. 25-26). We have such an excellent example of the providence of God in today’s text. Jesus multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish, so that it fed 4000 hungry men and an unknown number of women and children! No one would have thought this was possible, but “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).
Why wouldn’t the Lord provide for your needs? He has already accomplished something far greater for you than filling your stomach. He bought back your soul with His precious blood to spare you from an eternity of suffering in hell. His blood blots out your anxiety and worry about not having enough, and it washes away your sin of not caring for your neighbors as you should. You are the blood-bought child of the heavenly Father, and He does not forsake His own.
No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, remember what your Savior has done for you and what more He still promises to do. Then you will see small blessings multiply, until your heart is overflowing with thankfulness toward Him.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, whose abundant grace is richly supplied for our spiritual nourishment, dear fellow redeemed:
As much as you and I want to be helpful and loving toward our neighbors, the feeling of exhaustion can occur with any of us. We might feel as though we have given all we can, but more and more keeps getting asked of us. This can happen in the home when children expect their parents to do everything for them and complain if things don’t go their way. It can happen at work where greater productivity is demanded but without the resources needed to do the job. When we feel we are being taken advantage of and have to carry everyone else’s burdens, this can put us on edge and lead to burnout. And then we can also feel like failures for what we have not accomplished or for our less than cheerful attitude.
In this state, it is important to take a step back, even if certain tasks must be left undone for a while. Some “recharge” with alone time; others seek out a few faithful friends. But it is also good for us to remember the means God provides for our renewal. In the divine service, He gives forgiveness and strength through His absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper. And in private, He invites us to unburden ourselves through prayer and personal meditation on His Word.
Even Jesus went off by Himself from time to time. There was a constant need for His teaching, more people to heal, and more demons to cast out, but these waited while Jesus spent time in meditation and prayer. The reason Jesus “went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee” in today’s text is because He had just received the news of John’s the Baptizer’s beheading. John had baptized Jesus and declared Him to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Jesus said about John that he was “more than a prophet,” and that “among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk. 7:26,28).
This great prophet was killed because a bad king made a promise he should not have. What an injustice this was! What wickedness is done to the servants of God in this fallen world! When Jesus heard the news, He withdrew by boat to a desolate place by Himself (Mk. 14:13), with His disciples not far from Him. They had all been so busy assisting people who “were coming and going,” that “they had no leisure even to eat” (Mk. 6:31).
But the crowds still followed. In fact, when some saw them get into the boat, they ran along the shore and got to the other side before Jesus and His disciples did. I can imagine them feeling annoyed and put out by this: “Can’t you people give us a little break! Can’t your troubles wait for a day or two!” The disciples may have felt this way, but Jesus did not. The evangelist Mark writes that “When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34). He did not tell them to leave, or try to get away from them. He had compassion on them.
At no point in Jesus’ ministry do we see Him turn away those who came to Him for help. The closest is when He seemed to ignore the request of the Canaanite woman to heal her daughter (Mt. 15:21-28). But even then, He did not tell her to go away and leave Him alone. He tested her faith and then granted her request. As He Himself promised—and He cannot lie—“whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37).
So in that desolate place by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus “healed their sick” (Mt. 14:14) and “began to teach them many things” (Mk. 6:34), including teachings about “the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:11). These were souls hungry for encouragement, hungry to hear the truth. They were like wandering sheep, and Jesus had the food they needed. He is the Good Shepherd, who leads His sheep to rest in green pastures and find renewal beside still waters. This happens through the Word. Through His powerful Word, Jesus restores each hungry and hurting soul. As His mother Mary sang, the Lord “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk. 1:53). The spiritually weak and needy are well filled, while the spiritually self-centered and self-secure are sent away empty.
But the needs of the crowd by the Sea of Galilee were more than spiritual, which is also true for us. We have physical needs. This is how God made us. In order for our bodies to function, in order to survive, we need food and drink. The people were so eager to listen to Jesus that they seemed to have forgotten their physical needs for a time. But Jesus did not.
The disciples advised Jesus to send the people away, so they could find food for themselves. He replied, “You give them something to eat” (Mt. 6:37). Philip said, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew chimed in that a boy there had five barley loaves and two fish, “but what are they for so many?” Their responses showed they did not even consider how Jesus could help in feeding the great crowd.
We are guilty of the same thing when we have a problem or need that we do not know how to solve. Instead of trusting that God will provide, we let ourselves be consumed by worry and stress. We complain. We take our anxiety out on the people around us. How many times has a scenario like that played out in your life? Only once in a great while, or more frequently?
And what happened to that need or trouble that caused such anguish? Half the time, we don’t even remember—something that seemed so desperately important then, is now all but forgotten. The times we do remember, we see how God recognized our need and well provided for us, even in ways we could not have imagined. It should not surprise us that the Lord would do this for His precious sheep. He loves us (ELH 177, v. 1). How could He fail to help us? As King David said, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Ps. 37:25).
Jesus was not going to send the children begging for bread in the wilderness. He gratefully received the five loaves of bread and two fish from the boy, gave thanks to God for them, and proceeded to divide and distribute them among the people gathered there. There were 5,000 men present, along with an untold number of women and children. All of them had their fill, eating as much as they wanted. At Jesus’ direction so nothing would be wasted, the leftover fragments were gathered and filled twelve baskets! It was a great miracle, and also a great lesson about how richly God provides.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us about God’s providence, and teaches us to exchange our sinful worry for patient trust. “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. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:31-33).
This should have been clear to the crowd in the wilderness. They should have recognized that the One who so easily provided for their physical needs, could also—and most importantly—provide for their spiritual needs. They should have been most concerned to satisfy their spiritual hunger like they had been earlier that day. But the devil corrupted their thinking. They began to suggest to one another that they should force Jesus to be their king, so that He could multiply bread for them all the time.
Jesus knew what was on their minds and insisted that the people return home. Now He did send them away, but it was for their own good. He came to do much more for them than provide earthly bread for temporary benefit. He came to give them heavenly Bread for eternal benefit.
The next day many came looking for Jesus, with the same misguided intention as the day before. Jesus addressed the issue immediately, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Jn. 6:26). In other words, He said they were motivated by fleshly and not godly thinking. Instead they should trust the One sent by God the Father (v. 29). They should listen to Jesus, “the bread of life,” who promised that “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).
Any other attempt to fill ourselves spiritually, whether by self-help methods, acts of service, or other good works, will always leave us feeling inadequate and guilty for not doing better. Nothing we do can fulfill our “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt. 5:6). The only One who can satisfy our spiritual hunger is Jesus, and Jesus Never Sends the Hungry Away Empty.
“I am the bread of life,” He said. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (vv. 48,50-51). Jesus is not only talking about eating His body and drinking His blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, although that is one way He forgives our sins and strengthens our faith. But here, He is speaking more broadly about faith.
By faith in Jesus and His Word, we receive Him as our Savior and partake of His grace. He is the food our souls need when we are worn out or burdened, or when we feel the guilt of our unloving or anxious attitudes. Through His Word and Sacraments, Jesus comes to us in our weakness and fills us with His strength and righteousness. This heavenly nourishment keeps us from spiritual starvation in this life and gives us everything we need for life eternal.
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(“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Natvig Reunion at Saude
Text: Jeremiah 31:23-25
In Christ Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us, so that we may be with Him forever, dear fellow redeemed:
What is the place that you think of as your home? Is it where you currently live? Is it where you grew up? Those of you who have lived in the same place for decades might have an easier time answering this question. Others of you who have moved around a bit might identify “home” less with a location and more with family members or your belongings. For some of you, home might be this part of northeast Iowa where your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents lived, even though you never lived here yourself.
Abram grew up in the city of Ur in the southeastern part of modern-day Iraq and moved with his father to the city of Haran in the northern part of modern-day Syria. But neither of those places was to be his home. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s house and go to the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1). This was the land where his offspring would live. But Abram was a nomad, wandering from place to place with his herds and flocks. His son Isaac lived the same life, as did his sons Jacob and Esau. When Jacob’s son Joseph was made the second-in-command in Egypt, Jacob and all his children and grandchildren moved there.
In Egypt, the family multiplied to such an extent that a Pharaoh ruling long after Joseph’s death enslaved these “Israelites.” Now, God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants seemed like nothing but an empty dream. Pharaoh would never let them go. But the LORD called Moses to lead them out of Egypt, and they were delivered from slavery. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the LORD brought them to the land He had promised, the land of Canaan.
What a gift the LORD had given them! No more wandering. No more longing for a place to call their own. They were finally home! But it wasn’t long before they forgot the One who brought them out of slavery and gave them this land. They began to think that their success was due to their own strength. They thought that they could blend the religious practices of the people around them into their own culture without losing sight of who they were. It wasn’t long before their hearts were given over to the false gods of the Gentile nations. Even when they performed the ceremonial rites that God commanded, they were only going through the motions.
God sent the Assyrians against the northern kingdom of Israel, and in 722 B. C. the Israelites were either killed or exiled, never to be heard from again. The southern kingdom of Judah survived awhile longer, until its people were also exiled in the year 586. God had given them a good home, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Jer. 32:22), but they had forgotten Him. They praised themselves for their prosperity, and trusted in their own efforts and abilities. The LORD said through the prophet Jeremiah, “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely…. Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it”’” (6:13,16).
However the LORD did not forget His people. He brought them back from their captivity in Babylon. He returned them to the home promised to their forefathers so long before. He did exactly what He said He would do in today’s text, “And Judah and all its cities shall dwell [in the land] together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
For many of you, your forefathers set out from the lands of Europe many years ago. The people who formed the congregations of Jerico and Saude were Norwegian immigrants. They left Norway because the population there was expanding, and they heard about land for the taking in America. Men, women, and children left their families and the only home they had ever known, and got aboard overcrowded ships to make the long journey to a new country. These families could bring along only the most essential items. Among these items could almost always be found a Bible, a Catechism, and a Lutheran hymnbook.
They arrived with hardly anything to their name but trusted that their gracious LORD would provide for them. And He did. Like the Israelites of old, He led them to their own land. And He gave them the strength and the will to cultivate the land and make a home for themselves. It was hard work, but the LORD blessed it. These humble settlers gave credit where credit was due. They confessed along with their first pastor, the Rev. U. V. Koren, the words we just sang, “Not we, but the Lord is our Maker, our God: / Glory be to God! / His people we are, and the sheep led by His rod; / Sing praise unto God out of Zion!” (ELH #56, v. 2).
But the land could not provide everything that these industrious settlers needed. It gave them the materials required for barns and shelters. It produced food for themselves and their livestock. It satisfied their physical needs well enough. But the land could not provide for their spiritual needs. Only the Word of God can do that.
Before I came to serve this parish, I was a pastor in the western part of Washington in the city of Tacoma, south of Seattle. The religious culture in the Pacific Northwest is not what it is here. Many do not go to church or have any interest in organized religion. When they have free time (typically on the weekends), people like to go hiking in the mountains or spend time on the coast. They imagine that nature is their connection to the divine, if there is a god at all.
This mentality is not as obvious in the Midwest, but we are not far behind. Our culture likes to present religious teaching something like the menu at a restaurant. “Oh, I’ll take this, but could you bring it without this and this? I just can’t stand that. I don’t know how anyone could swallow that.” It used to be for our grandparents and great-grandparents that whatever the Bible said was the truth. Now we hear talk about how Jesus’ apostles were chauvinistic or homophobic. Jesus Himself is recast as a good teacher whose core message is that we should love and accept everyone just the way they are.
But is that why the Son of God became Man? Was it His mission to deliver the message that everyone is perfect just the way they are? Our ancestors knew better, and I hope we do too. Jesus described His mission in this way, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). Who are the lost? He was not referring to the Israelites exiled by the Assyrians, or to the Judeans taken by the Babylonians. He is talking about you and me and all sinners. We are those who are lost in our sins by nature. We have wandered far off the right path and cannot find our way back again. In our sin, we have no prospect of a good home or a bright future.
But some do not think they are lost. They think they have all they need in this life. “The weak and the small-minded might go for what the Bible says, but not me.” But then where is your hope? What purpose does your life have? What good will all your earthly wealth do when death comes? Our beloved ancestors buried around this church do not have bank accounts anymore. They do not own land. They wouldn’t care if they did. They left behind their temporary riches in this world for eternal riches in heaven. They left their good homes here for a far better home where the LORD dwells.
They did not get there by hard work or a noble character. They got there by grace. God the Father sent His Son to gather up the lost like a good shepherd gathers his wandering sheep [which is depicted so nicely on the altar painting at Saude]. Jesus came to save each weary soul, every person languishing in sin, all those who had fainted along the way. He came to save you. He came to give you what you cannot earn or buy or manufacture or produce. He came to win for you the forgiveness of your sins, which could only be obtained through the shedding of His holy blood.
This is the heart of Christian teaching, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This is the Gospel truth that has been passed down to us from generation to generation. It never goes out of style. It never needs to change. It is God’s timeless promise to the world of sinners. Whoever comes to Him with a humble heart, repenting of all sins, trusting His gracious Word—these He will never cast out (Jn. 6:37).
The LORD loves to forgive sins. He loves to provide living water from the well of His Word. He loves to feed the hungry with His own body and blood. And He loves to bring the weary and faint to Himself in heaven. There, our struggle will be over, our hard labor ended, and our longing for a lasting home satisfied. As our Norwegian ancestors sang, “In heav’n above, in heav’n above, / No tears of pain are shed, / For nothing there can fade or die; / Life’s fullness round is spread, / And like an ocean, joy o’erflows, / And with immortal mercy glows / Our God, the Lord of hosts!” (ELH #542, v. 3).
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