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.
+ + +
(picture of Jesus and the lilies from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 7:31-37
In Christ Jesus, who came to bring healing not just for bodies but also for souls, not just for this life but for the life to come, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could change one thing about your body, one thing that would make you happier and more content, what would it be? For some of us (maybe many of us), it would be our weight—“I wish I could trim off a few pounds.” Others of us might say, “I wish I were a little bit taller.” “I wish I were stronger.” “I wish I were prettier.” Most of these wishes have to do with how other people see us. We want them to think we look good, because that helps us feel better about ourselves.
Or maybe what you would like to change is not so much your appearance, but your health. “I wish this pain in my joints or my back would go away.” “I wish I could get back the energy and mobility I used to have.” “I wish my heart were more reliable.” “I wish this cancer were gone.” And there is no question that being healed of these things would be a great relief. But how far would it take you? Would you actually be happier and more content if you received exactly what you wanted?
Today we hear about a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Those two things often go together. If you grow up being unable to hear, or unable to hear correctly, you won’t know how to control the sounds that you make with your mouth. Communication for this man was certainly difficult, but he had gotten along so far. He did not have a life-threatening illness or demon-possession like other people Jesus had healed. But the people figured that if Jesus could help with those things, He could “lay His hand on” this man and heal him too.
While the people had confidence in Jesus, it isn’t exactly the case that they believed in Him. They believed that He had special powers, and they were really hoping to see Him use them. But they did not believe He was the promised Savior of the world. What they were hoping for was a miracle of physical healing and not much more.
Jesus of course knew this about them. We see how He took the deaf man away from the crowd, because He wasn’t interested in making a spectacle of it. He sighed deeply—even groaned—as He looked toward heaven, saddened by the whole situation. And then after the miracle had been performed, He charged the people not to tell anyone what He had done—an order which they totally ignored.
But why would Jesus order them not to tell? Well what kind of message do you think they shared? Would you guess that they talked more about who He was, or about what He was able to do? “He has done all things well!” they cried. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!” The message was that Jesus mattered because of the physical healing He could perform.
This message could have led some to wonder, “Who is Jesus anyway? How is He able to do the things He does?” Those are the questions all the people should have been asking. But many just looked at Him as a means to get what they wanted. “If Jesus could take away this problem, or this problem, I would be so free. Then I could do whatever I wanted again.”
You can see how getting healed by Jesus did not guarantee that people would follow Him. We see the same thing today. Our merciful Lord regularly blesses the medical treatment people receive, so that their life is extended. Or He preserves people from greater harm when they could have easily died. Many who have been through these things will even express that they have “a new lease on life.” But their attitude toward God doesn’t change. They don’t give thanks to the One who gives them their daily bread, who gives them everything they have and everything they need for this life.
And the same often goes for us. We might fervently pray for one thing, one physical gift, whether it be healing from an infection or disease, or for improved health. We say that we will dedicate our whole life to God if only He will fix this one thing. But how much changes for us if that healing comes? It usually doesn’t take long before we forget what God has done for us. And then we take up a new petition, a new concern, that would make our lives so much better if only God would help.
There is always another problem. This makes me think of the animated movie Aladdin by Disney. When dirt-poor Aladdin learned he had three wishes to ask for whatever he wanted, he figured he really only needed one and said he would happily use one of the wishes to free the genie. But that first wish didn’t accomplish everything Aladdin wanted. More issues and needs kept coming up. That’s how life is in this sinful world. We cannot have a perfect existence here.
Instead of looking for happiness and contentment through the relief of our physical problems, Jesus wants us to look to Him. That was the message for Paul, who pleaded for the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” Surely God would grant this request to His loyal servant, who endured tremendous affliction for preaching the Gospel! Paul prayed specifically for this three times, and this was the Lord’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Co. 12:9).
The question is not whether God has the power to heal us. Of course He does. The question is whether that healing is the best thing for us. God’s response to Paul was that his thorn in the flesh would be a reminder to Paul of His grace toward him. Paul would have to rely on the Lord’s strength instead of his own, which is what he realized and confessed. Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9, 10).
What Jesus does for us—that is what matters. Today’s Epistle lesson is about the change brought by our Savior’s coming. It contrasts the ministry of condemnation and death with the ministry of righteousness and life (2Co. 3:4-11). The ministry of condemnation is the work of God’s Law on our hearts which convicts us of our sin, sins like worry and impatience in our suffering, and sins like forgetting the mercy of God toward us. The ministry of righteousness is the Holy Spirit applying the gracious work of Jesus to us sinners.
God sent His Son to infuse life into this world of death. We see this so vividly in Jesus’ healing touch. The man’s ears and tongue which were “broken” because of sin in this world, Jesus touched with His holy hands. Then He spoke His powerful Word. The man didn’t have the physical ability to hear this Word, but Jesus’ Word made its way through the damaged parts of his outer ear, middle ear, or inner ear and into his brain and set all those mechanisms right again.
That’s what Jesus’ Word does, it sets everything right. His Word sets our hearts right and our minds right. His Word sets our homes right and the teaching of our churches right. His Word sets our priorities and our plans and our hopes right. When the man’s tongue was released, we are told that he was now able to speak rightly (Greek: orthos).
The people said, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” as though that were the most he could do or the height of what He could do. But He came to do something much bigger and much better than physical healing. Putting His fingers into the man’s ears was just a small sign of who He is and what He came to do. The Son of God put His whole divine self into our human flesh. “For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
He came to be the Minister of Righteousness, to serve us in His righteousness and to distribute His righteous acts to us. All the good He accomplished according to the holy Law, fulfilling its demands in full, He gives to us. He credits us with His perfect listening which covers over all the times we used our hearing to listen to what is false and wrong. He credits us with His perfect speaking which covers over all the times we used our mouths to speak what is untrue and unkind. The life we have lived in our sin has been wrong in so many ways, and Jesus set us right again with the Father by His perfect life. And the debt we owed to God for breaking all His commands, Jesus paid it by shedding His holy blood on the cross.
So whether or not everything is all right for you or for me in our bodies and in the world, we are right with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is our confidence and this is our comfort when we suffer. Our suffering might not quickly go away, and it may be God’s will that it does not go away as long as we live here. But He promises to keep touching us with His mercy and grace in both the good days and the bad ones.
He does not tire of coming to minister to us and serve us with His healing presence in the means of grace. He does not tire of encouraging us in our weakness. He does not tire of speaking His promises to us again and again, opening our ears and filling us with His righteousness and with His enduring peace. The people were right that Jesus “has done all things well,” but they didn’t fully appreciate what “all things” meant.
Jesus “has done all things well,” all things right, because He is Righteousness. He is the Righteousness of God sent down from heaven to free us from our bondage to sin and death, and free us to hear His Word rightly and confess His truth clearly. In Him, we can be happy and content, even if not everything is right with our bodies on the outside or the inside. Jesus, the Minister of Righteousness is the one blessing we truly need.
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.
+ + +
(picture from the morning of the annual outdoor service)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, who came not to abolish the Law of God but to fulfill it for our righteousness, dear fellow redeemed:
The words of Jesus for today come from the early part of His “Sermon on the Mount.” In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes what a righteous life before God looks like. A righteous life is a life that matches up with what God says in His Commandments. It is to be just, right with God, blameless. Two times in His sermon, Jesus tells us to desire such a life. He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mat. 5:6, 6:33).
In both of these passages, He describes a righteousness that is outside us. What we are to hunger and thirst for and seek first is God’s righteousness. That’s because our own personal righteousness is not enough. “For I tell you,” says Jesus, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were seen as the holiest people there were, and Jesus said their righteousness still fell short.
Then He illustrated the ways our righteousness falls short by explaining that the Commandments of God are about more than outward actions, outward conformity. You haven’t kept the Fifth Commandment simply by refraining from murder. Jesus explains that this Commandment is also broken in the mind and the heart when you hold grudges, when you have anger toward another, or when you insult someone. The Fifth Commandment, along with all of the other Commandments, is fulfilled by love. If you have anger or want revenge against others, you have no love for them.
But if you think right now about the people who have been mean to you, who have been unkind to you, who have hurt you, it is easy to justify the anger or even the hatred that you feel. You gave them the benefit of the doubt, but they abused your trust. You tried to be nice, but they only got worse. So you are going to treat them how they have treated you. You are going to give them what they deserve—and it isn’t love.
Imagine if Jesus took this approach. If Jesus took this approach, I would have no good word to share with you today, no comfort to impart. If Jesus treated us like we deserved, He would never have come down to make peace between us and God. He would never have suffered the wrath of man and of God and let Himself be nailed to the cross in our place. If Jesus treated us like we deserved, He would condemn us for our sins and send us to eternal suffering in hell.
But the Son of God did not become man to give us what we deserved. He came to show God’s mercy and grace toward the world of sinners. Look at what love and compassion He had for the sick and hurting! So many came to Him for healing, that He often went without meals and without sleep. And He did this fully knowing where this was all going, knowing the suffering and anguish that the collective sin of humanity would cause Him.
He loved perfectly. He didn’t work with an angle in mind. He didn’t serve with conditions. He constantly focused on the needs of His neighbors and how He could bless them. His life is what the righteous life that God requires looks like. It is not the way our lives look. But Jesus does not look down on us or flaunt His righteousness in front of us. He lived a life of perfect righteousness for us.
His righteous keeping of God’s Commandments counted for you. Because He is true God and true Man, whatever He did in the flesh was done on behalf of all people. This means that all who deny their own self-righteousness and trust in Him are credited with His righteousness. You will find no peace in running over and over again the wrongs done to you by others or in trying to convince yourself that you have a right to your bitterness and anger.
You will find peace in Jesus. He died for all sin—both your sin and the sin of those who have wronged you. His blood cleanses you of all of it (1Jo. 1:7). And His righteous life, His life of perfect love, covers you completely. You are a holy one by faith in Him. God is not angry with you for your many sins. He poured out His wrath against His Son, who fully atoned for all your sins. By faith in Him, your righteousness does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, because you have His righteousness. That means you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Everything God required of you, He supplied you. There is nothing keeping you out of heaven. Eternal life is yours—this is most certainly true! But it is not time for heaven yet. As long as you are here, God has important work for you to do. It isn’t that He needs anything from you; after all, everything on earth is His, because He made all things. But the people around you do have needs, and God has called you to love and serve them. He calls you to share with others what you have received from Him.
This is where our identity as His “righteous ones” is tested. We are glad to hear that He forgives our sins and declares us righteous, but we find it difficult to treat other people how He treats us. We can be “good with God” but not so good with others. But look at how Jesus takes the beam of love we have toward God and trains it on our neighbors. He says, “if you are offering your gift at the altar—dedicating your prayers, thanksgivings, and offerings to God—and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
First things first, says Jesus. Do what you can to amend your wrong toward someone, so that you can offer your gifts to God with a cheerful heart and a clear conscience. Now there are some interpersonal issues that are difficult for us to fix. Someone might have something against us because they choose too and not because we are guilty of wronging them. These are people we show love and kindness to and pray for God to soften their hearts.
But here, Jesus is speaking about people that we have wronged by something we did to them, something we said to them, or some other way we caused offense. This applies to everyone whom we have hurt, and especially to our brothers—our fellow believers. It is always troubling and sad when there is a division within the family of faith, within the body of Christ.
But taking that first step toward reconciliation is a difficult one. As we said before, it is easy to justify the reasons we have treated others like we have. “They started it!” “What he did was worse than anything I ever did!” “I was only giving her what she gave to me!” Those responses are self-righteousness. What we are concerned about is Jesus-righteousness. We are willing to humble ourselves and serve and suffer just as He did for us.
Jesus is the prime example of how we are to interact with our neighbors. He never stopped loving, even when all He received was hatred. Think of His first words after being violently nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34). But Jesus is far more than our example. He is our righteousness, our forgiveness, our power source for stepping outside what we want and stepping toward a neighbor in need.
All our neighbors have to deal with our sins, so we also want to deal out Jesus’ gifts to them. It is with Jesus’ love and sacrifice in mind that we can have courage and strength to say those three difficult words, “I am sorry.” And it is with His love and sacrifice in mind that we can respond to those who have hurt us with those other three difficult words, “I forgive you.”
“[B]e reconciled to your brother,” said Jesus, “and then come and offer your gift.” It may even happen, by the grace of God, that when you return to offer your gift, the brother with whom you had been at odds will be kneeling right beside you, offering his gift of praise and thanksgiving to God. This is what we are privileged to do each week as we receive Holy Communion. Husbands and wives who have hurt each other with unkind words come to receive Jesus’ powerful healing through His body and blood, given and shed for the remission of their sins. The same goes for parents and children who have been fighting, or for any others in the congregation whom Satan has tried to divide.
We all come forward, not trusting in our own righteousness, but humbly trusting in Jesus’ righteousness. We know how lacking our love for our neighbors has been, but we firmly believe that Jesus still forgives us and that He will strengthen us to do better. This is a beautiful pattern that repeats each week. We come weak and stained by our sin to the Divine Service, and Jesus meets us here to serve us and fill us up with His gifts.
Then He sends us back to our homes and jobs and activities with plenty of grace and forgiveness to share with others. If He never runs out of these gifts, then we won’t either, and we will continuously learn what a blessing it is to love as He has loved us.
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.
+ + +
(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Rudolf Yelin the Older, 1912)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who did the work we had hardly even begun and were not about to finish, dear fellow redeemed:
What would it take for you to feel like you have really “made it”? When would you consider your life a success? Would it be rising to a prominent position in a company? Being recognized and awarded for your accomplishments? Making a certain amount of money and achieving the standard of living you always dreamed of? We look up to actors, athletes, and singers, because it seems like they have everything they want, the perfect life.
King Solomon had more than all of them. He looked back on a lifetime of hard work, of success and fame, and concluded that “all was vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecc. 2:11). He said that “there is more gain in wisdom than in folly,” but in the end, “the wise dies just like the fool!” (vv. 13, 16). He also recognized that everything he had worked for would one day be turned over to another to keep and manage, “and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” (v. 19).
So our satisfaction will not be found in climbing higher and higher and getting more and more. There is a better focus for our work, and we learn it today from the example of Jesus’ disciples.
When Jesus visited the fishermen by the lake of Gennesaret, they were not in good spirits. These men fished for their livelihood, not for leisure, which made a night’s work with no return especially frustrating. We might have expected Simon Peter’s response to be a bit saltier than it was when Jesus directed him to row to the deep part of the lake and let down his nets. For one thing, it was not the right time of day for fishing. And the deeper parts of the lake were probably not the best places to find fish. But Simon replied respectfully, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.”
It wasn’t long before the fishermen saw the nets start to drag along as though they were filling up. In a short time their nets were so full, that two fishing boats could not handle the load. So much for all their fishing wisdom! This Jesus came along and prompted the greatest catch of fish they had ever seen! Now they were keenly aware of a power in their presence that was much greater than their own. They did not doubt that they had just witnessed a miracle, which meant Jesus was either a prophet of God or God Himself. Simon fell to his knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
What Simon had forgotten at that moment is something that we lose sight of too. We forget that we are always in the presence of God, and that we cannot prosper in work without His blessing. So often we experience some success at work and are praised for what we accomplish, and we think of this as well-earned recognition. We worked hard for this and did what others could not do.
It is not wrong to take pride in a job well done. But it is wrong to take full credit for it. If you are a farmer, who is it that sends the sun and rain for your crops? If you work for an employer, who gave you the mental and physical abilities you have? If your kids grow up to be reasonably responsible citizens, who granted you the patience and care you needed to raise them?
To act as though God has nothing to do with our successes—which is what every unbeliever thinks—is to greatly dishonor Him. Unbelievers see their success as entirely dependent on themselves and even flaunt their riches in God’s face, as though He had nothing to do with it. But unless He opens His merciful hand and gives His blessings, no creature could live. He satisfies the desire of every living thing, as the Psalm says (145:16).
But we do not always feel satisfied with His gifts. Sometimes, like the disciples, we work hard and come up with nothing. Why is that? Why do we wear ourselves out and lose ground while the unrighteous appear to prosper? Has God forgotten our need? It is easy to question God when we are struggling, but it is just as easy to forget Him when we prosper. This may be why God sometimes gives us more and sometimes less—to remind us to trust in Him.
No matter how hard you work, if your work is not done to the glory of God, it is empty. No amount of money and goods will satisfy you without Jesus in view. Peter, James, and John recognized this. Even after the greatest catch of fish they had ever seen, they left it all behind. “[T]hey left everything and followed [Jesus].” They followed Jesus because He called them to a different kind of fishing. Now they would be “catching men” for God.
But they were not prepared to help fill God’s net until they were caught themselves. When Simon saw the great catch of fish, He begged Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinner. What sin do you suppose was on his mind? Was it that he doubted any fish would be caught when he “put out into the deep”? Or was it just a general awareness of his sinfulness as He stood before his Lord? The prophet Isaiah reacted in much the same way in the presence of God in heaven, “Woe is me! For I am lost” he said; “for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5). But the last thing Simon Peter needed is what he requested. When he said, “Depart from me,” he should have said, “Save me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Being in the presence of God and hearing His Word forces us to reckon with our sins. We hear the standard that God sets and realize how far we fall short of meeting it. But instead of crying out to Jesus, “Save me!” we try to make things better on our own. We know that the sin we have fallen into is condemned by God, and we want to stop doing it. But instead of trusting in Him, we put our trust in ourselves. “I am strong enough to overcome this,” we think. “I know I am better than this, and I will prove it!” And what happens? We fall again and again. And eventually, we lose the will to fight anymore. Sometimes we continue in the sin despite the conflict we feel in our conscience, or we begin to justify the sin in an attempt to rewire our conscience.
Our flailing attempts to get free of God’s accusing law are like a bird caught in a fishing net. The harder it tries to get away, the more tangled up it becomes. This is how it was with Martin Luther. Luther had tried to get right with God by his works. He even gave up a promising career in law in order to become a monk, so that he could dedicate his life to righteous living full-time.
But the harder he worked, the more his net of righteousness came up empty. He expressed this painful realization in a hymn verse: “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; / Death brooded darkly o’er me. / Sin was my torment night and day; / In sin my mother bore me. / Yea, deep and deeper still I fell; / Life had become a living hell, / So firmly sin possessed me” (ELH 378, v. 2).
It wasn’t that Luther was more sinful than the common man. But he was more honest about his sinful condition than many are. No matter how hard you and I try, we are still sinners who deserve death. St. Paul lays it out clearly, “the wages of sin is death.” But then he speaks the good news for us sinners, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
By God’s grace, we learn that the righteousness God requires of sinners is supplied by Jesus. To try to get to heaven without Him is to come up empty. But to place one’s entire life and being in His hands through repentant faith is to obtain everything. By faith in Jesus, your net is filled with forgiveness for your many sins, with eternal life instead of death, and with salvation from your enemies. Faith receives such abundant blessings from God that you sink beneath their glorious weight. God’s grace surrounds you and covers you, so that your flimsy attempts at righteousness can no more be seen. All that is now in view is the righteousness of Jesus and His cleansing blood.
That is why we follow Him. He gives us what we could never get on our own. Our Constant Toiling Nets Nothing without Jesus. Romans 4:5 declares, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It is not your work that justifies you before God, but faith in Jesus who did all the work that was necessary to save you.
He worked hard to save you, and He isn’t about to let that hard work on your behalf go to waste. He comes to you still and continues to work in you through His Word and Sacraments. Through these means, He supplies forgiveness whenever your God-given work falls short, and He grants the strength that you need to carry out your work to His glory alone.
+ + +
(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 3:13-17
In Christ Jesus, who “came by water and blood,” (1Jo. 5:6), who came to fulfill all righteousness and win our salvation from His baptism to His death on the cross, dear fellow redeemed:
What do you want to be when you grow up? If you are not asking that question now, you probably did at one time. Children and adolescents spend a lot of time thinking about that question. What am I supposed to do with my life? What will my future hold? Typically we start with grand ideas. We want to be just like the famous trailblazers and champions we admire. But as we get older, our plans become more realistic, even if our life doesn’t go in the direction we expect.
Tied up in our plans for the future is the question about where we fit in the world. We want to be noticed. We want to be liked. We want to be successful. We want others to think we are special. And that’s a lot of pressure. A report released last week by the CDC said that anxiety and depression are on the rise among teenagers, and it’s way up among teenage girls. Part of the reason for this increase has to do with the pressure that teenagers feel in matters of their sexuality.
Our current culture does not provide a healthy environment for children to mature and grow. It expects them to make life-changing decisions about themselves and their bodies when they aren’t ready to make those decisions. How do we help them with the burdens they carry? How do we settle our own anxious thoughts about our purpose in life and our future?
Today’s reading provides good direction for us. The events happened at a time when hardly anyone knew who Jesus was. His neighbors in Nazareth thought of Him as a kind and intelligent young man. But they didn’t exactly expect Him to be a world-changer. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, and He was probably destined for a very anonymous life (Mat. 13:55).
But that isn’t what John the Baptizer thought. When Jesus made His way to the Jordan River where John was preaching and baptizing, John said something surprising, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” How did John know who Jesus was? We don’t know. What we know is that John was called to prepare the way for the Messiah. And he said that “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (Joh. 1:31).
John and Jesus were also cousins, so it is possible they grew up around each other, and John could see how good and upright Jesus was. Whatever impressions John had about Jesus would now become set in stone. “Let it be so now,” said Jesus, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So John baptized Him.
As soon as Jesus stepped down into the river and had water poured over Him, you and I were assured of a very bright, a very beautiful future. How can that be? When Jesus stepped into the water, He didn’t go for Himself. We can see why John questioned Jesus’ intent to be baptized. John clearly proclaimed that his baptism was for sinners. But what sins did Jesus have to confess?
Jesus had no sins of His own, but He had all of yours and mine. This was no ordinary man who showed up at the river. This was the eternal Son of God clothed in our flesh. Whatever God did in the flesh should have our very close attention. He didn’t go to the Jordan to pass the time. Everything He did had purpose. His baptism was not a small detail in His life. It was the public beginning of His work of salvation. It was His anointing as the Savior of the world.
He stepped into the river “to fulfill all righteousness.” You can’t “fulfill all righteousness.” I can’t “fulfill all righteousness.” But Jesus could fulfill it for all of us. When He entered the water, He stepped in for you and me and every member of the human race. He was baptized to work a great exchange—your sin for His righteousness. He was baptized into your sin, so that you could be baptized into His righteousness.
In other words, His baptism in the Jordan is your future flashing before your eyes. And His journey from the Jordan to the cross and grave is your journey. What I mean is that you do not have to worry about the mark you will make on the world. You do not have to prove that you matter or that you are special. You do not have to create your own identity or determine your own fate. Jesus already addressed these concerns for you.
You can’t see what your future will hold, but you can see what Jesus’ future held. You see how the heavens were opened after His baptism and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and rested on Him. You see how God the Father gave the stamp of approval to His Son by saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
You know how Jesus went on from there to the wilderness to be tempted, how He started teaching about the kingdom of God and healing the sick and the hurting, how His enemies made plans against Him, and eventually brought Him up on false charges before the governor Pontius Pilate. You see how Jesus willingly suffered, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter opening not His mouth. You see how He was nailed to the cross, cried out in anguish, died, and was buried.
That’s not exactly a future to aspire to. Do we really want to walk in those steps? Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat. 16:24). That is the exact opposite of what we want to do. The world tells us to indulge ourselves—food, drink, entertainment, pleasure—and our own flesh wants it. Why should we fight these desires? Why do we have to take up a cross? Won’t that only lead to heartache and pain?
It is true that following after Jesus brings us trouble. He says the world will hate everyone who trusts in Him, because the world hated Him (Joh. 15:18-19). “In the world you will have tribulation” (Joh. 16:33), He says. But persecution and trouble are not all that our future holds. In fact, Jesus says that these things only last “a little while.”
Jesus’ future did not end with His death and burial and neither will yours. Jesus came to life again on the third day. He undid death. He reversed the curse. Death no longer had dominion over Him (Rom. 6:9). He rose from the dead, and He lives on in glory. That is your future. He won that victory for you.
And all of it starts at baptism. Baptism changed your future and your focus like nothing else in the world possibly could. It had a bigger impact on you than having all your hopes and dreams for this life come true, even more than winning the lottery or becoming the ruler of the whole world. Because at your baptism, Jesus officially made His righteousness, His accomplishments, and His eternal victory over death yours.
Jesus had your sins poured over Him at the Jordan River, so you would have His righteousness poured over you at the font. He was punished by the Father in your place, so you would be forgiven of all you have done wrong. He died, so that you would live. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit came to rest on you and filled your heart with faith. When you were baptized, God the Father called you His “beloved,” with whom He is “well pleased.”
St. Paul explains that “We were buried therefore with [Christ Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). At your baptism, you were set on a new course. The plan for your future was locked in. Your life gained an instant and clear purpose. Because the merciful God chose you. He adopted you as His own. He named you His child and heir with Jesus as your brother.
Everything Jesus earned for you from His baptism to His grave became yours, and it is still yours. No matter how much you have messed up, God has not taken His baptism away from you. All that Jesus did for you is still done. Your future in Him is still secure.
So for the young who feel the pressure of being everything the world says they should be, who think they need to prove their worth and show how special they are, who are tempted to compromise themselves and their beliefs in order to be accepted, we can tell them that God loves them perfectly. He sees the temptations they have to face, how difficult their life is, and He promises that He will never leave them alone. He sent His Son to redeem their life with His, He brought them to the font to receive His blessings and give them new life, and He still meets them in their times of sadness and pain to help and strengthen them by His Word and Sacrament.
That is the promise and comfort that all of us need whether we are looking forward with anxiety or backward with regret. Jesus was baptized for you, to fulfill all righteousness for you. He went to the cross for you and rose again for you. Because of His work, your future is bright. You are baptized into Him. You believe in Him. And “[w]hoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mar. 16:16).
+ + +
(picture from 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
The Childhood of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad homily
Texts: St. Luke 2:22-38, St. Matthew 2:1-12, St. Matthew 2:13-23, St. Luke 2:41-52
In Christ Jesus, who entered this world of temptation and sin to win our righteousness and salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
When we review the accounts of Jesus’ childhood—especially the first three readings for today—Jesus is not depicted as doing anything on His own. When He was forty days old, His parents brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the LORD and to offer a sacrifice for Him as Old Testament Law required. Then Simeon took Jesus in his arms, blessing God. A number of months after this, wise men showed up at their house in Bethlehem, worshipping Jesus and giving Him gifts. Then because of Herod’s jealous wrath, an angel of the LORD told Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt for safety.
We might have expected more out of the Son of God incarnate. When He was presented at the temple, He could have impressed His parents and Simeon and Anna by opening His mouth and speaking a blessing to them. Or He could have made gifts appear for the wise men to help them on their journey home. He could have made His family vanish from Bethlehem and arrive in Egypt with no trouble. He could have stopped the terrible work of Herod’s soldiers.
But we see none of this. There was nothing in His appearance or actions that set Jesus apart from other children His age. He needed to be fed and have His diapers changed. He had to learn to walk and talk. The only difference that might have been perceived is that Jesus never threw a temper tantrum as infants and toddlers occasionally do. He never sinned even at this early age.
God had humbled Himself so completely when He entered our world as a baby, that He required the care of others. He needed the kind of help and assistance that all children need. God has given the responsibility of raising children to every adult, even those who do not have children of their own. Children need our collective care and support. They cannot provide for themselves, or when they are younger, defend themselves.
And the kind of care that God especially requires of us is spiritual care. Deuteronomy 6 says, “You shall teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (v. 7)—our conversations about what God has done for us should happen constantly. Proverbs 22 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (v. 6).
And Jesus speaks a blessing for those who take this seriously, but He speaks a curse for those who don’t. He said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mat. 18:5-6). Parents cause their children to sin by not teaching them the truth of God’s Word. But they give them eternal blessings by constantly pointing them to Jesus and reminding them of the gifts they received from Him at their Baptism.
This is serious business! And serious business can often seem too much for us to handle. But the care of our children is God’s will. And what God wills, He blesses. It is no mistake that the children in our life are in our life. God has given us to serve them, and He has given them to enrich our life. Children are a check on our selfish impulses by giving us a purpose and a focus outside of ourselves. And they are the source of tremendous joy and gladness as we watch their growth and development… and their misadventures.
As children mature, we see them become more and more independent. They still need us, but not for the same things. They start to test boundaries and not always in a sinful way. They want to explore on their own and find out what they are capable of. We see this independence in Jesus as a twelve-year-old. It is clear that His parents were comfortable with this, because they trusted that He was part of the group traveling home after the Passover. They didn’t feel the need to verify it. Jesus was a good boy!
And Jesus for His part was not doing anything sneaky by staying behind at the temple. He wasn’t trying to trouble His parents or make them worry. He was laser-focused on the important task of the moment and tuned out everything else around Him. This happens with our children too. Sometimes they don’t hear us give them some instruction because they don’t want to hear it. That is sinful. But other times, they don’t mean to be disobedient—they are just so focused on what they are doing that everything else gets tuned out. I suppose that happens with adults too!
It is clear that Jesus’ motivations were pure by His response to His mother, when she chided Him for His decision to stay in Jerusalem. Jesus was genuinely surprised at their concern. In His first recorded words in the New Testament, He asked them, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” They didn’t understand this at the time, but it became clear to them later. And so we learn to be patient with our children, even when they do things that are hard to understand.
Raising children is difficult, frustrating, stressful, awesome, enriching, and fun all at the same time. We wish we were better at it. It’s easy for us to list our failures, the times we grew impatient and lost our temper, when we put ourselves first, when we did not model goodness and faithfulness through our words and actions. And we know well the failures of our childhood, when we did not respect our parents and other authorities as we should, when we did things we knew were wrong, when we behaved selfishly and unkindly.
Jesus came to right all these wrongs. We are told that He submitted to His sinful parents and showed love to all the people around Him, even when they did not treat Him like they should have. We probably do the most sinning against those who are closest to us, who are part of our household. But Jesus showed perfect love to all. He did not sin. Even as a baby when it looked like He wasn’t doing anything, Jesus Was Busy Winning Our Righteousness.
His active obedience under the Law was for you, offered to God on your behalf. God does not hold your failures against you. He doesn’t even see them, because Jesus paid for them with His blood, and He covers you with His own holy life. No matter how unqualified you may feel at times to watch over those in your care, you are where you are supposed to be, and God promises to strengthen you for this important work. Even your lowly and imperfect efforts are sanctified by His grace and used for the care and salvation of the little lambs who are His more than they are yours.
+ + +
(picture from “Jesus Among the Doctors” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday after Michaelmas/Trinity 20 – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 22:1-14
In Christ Jesus, who graciously calls you to the feast of His salvation and clothes you in the garments of His righteousness, dear fellow redeemed:
Black SUVs pull up to your house, and professional-looking folks step out, walk up to your door, and ring the bell. So you brush the crumbs off your shirt, check your hair, and go to open the door. It turns out that these people have been sent by the governor. They hand you an invitation and tell you that you are personally invited to be the honored guest at a banquet one week from now.
Once the shock wears off, you realize you have some preparations to make. You can’t show up in blue jeans, so you’ll have to go shopping for formal attire. And it’s about time for a haircut. When the day comes, you leave your house and head for the car. You feel a little awkward being dressed up so much, and you kind of hope the neighbors don’t see you. But when you get to the banquet, you are glad you made the preparations you did. You look like you belong. It’s going to be a great evening.
But let’s back up. Maybe you don’t think much of the governor. When the personal invitation arrives, and you are told you will be the honored guest, you let it be known that you are not interested in going. You would rather do just about anything else, and they can tell their boss you said so. Then you shut the door with a little extra force and go back to your couch and your crumbs.
That’s how the invited guests reacted to the king’s invitation when the wedding feast for his son was ready. Some of them did even worse. Not only did they reject the invitation, but they also killed the servants of the king! When Jesus told this part of His parable, He was referring to His people, the Israelites. They were the people of God’s promise. They were the ones from whom the Savior would come.
But so often, they lost sight of this promise. They chased after the gods of the world. Out of love for His people, God sent prophets to call them back to repentance and faith (ex. 2Ch. 24:19). They didn’t have to lose their place at the wedding feast. But the people did not want to listen. They “seized [the Lord’s] servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” This happened to more than a few prophets. So eventually God sent the Babylonians to “[destroy] those murderers and [burn] their city.”
Jesus’ words are a sobering message for all of us. There are severe consequences for ignoring the Lord’s invitation and for mistreating His servants. St. Paul writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). The people of the world think their work and their possessions are far more important than the Word of God. They don’t need the Church! They don’t need someone pushing religion on them. If there is a god, they figure they will come out better with Him than all the hypocritical Christians. But God will judge them for ignoring His Word when it was right there for them. He wanted to save them, but they rejected Him.
We see how generous God is with His invitations by the king sending his servants to gather up as many as they could find out on the road, whether bad or good. The people whom God invites to His feast of salvation are not just the outwardly good, not just the nice ones and the generous ones. He invites sinners of all kinds to come to His table. If we could interview the saints in heaven about their past—which more than likely they will not remember in that place of blessedness and perfection—we might be shocked that they are even there.
How could God let people like them in? Because none of us gets to heaven by our own personal goodness. We get to heaven by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. Jesus told the religious leaders, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Mat. 21:31). Shocking! Why is that the case? Because “the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed [God],” while the religious leaders did not (v. 32). The religious leaders thought their personal goodness was good enough.
Jesus shows us how empty our own righteousness is by the guest in the wedding hall who came without a wedding garment on. This wasn’t a matter of poverty. The king would have gladly provided a change of clothes to this guest. What happened was that the guest refused it. He wanted to attend the wedding feast on his own terms. He thought he was better than the king. He thought he deserved to be there. And what happened to him? He was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.
This is a picture for us of why our practice of Closed Communion is so important. We insist that all who commune here are properly prepared for what they receive. Each one of you knows how to prepare. You come with humble and repentant hearts, knowing that you have sinned and wanting to do better. You trust that Jesus’ promise of forgiveness is true, and that He actually forgives your sins through the Supper of His body and blood. You come to this feast wearing the righteousness He provides you by faith.
You are also aware that you could receive Communion to your harm. If you are not truly sorry for your sins, if you do not want to stop sinning, if you do not believe that Jesus gives you what He says He does in Communion, then Jesus comes to you as Judge rather than as Savior. Our King does not invite us to Holy Communion on our own terms. It is not our Supper; it is His Supper—the Lord’s Supper. If we do not talk with non-members about what they believe, and if we don’t strive for real unity on the basis of God’s Word, we will be guilty of confirming them in their errors and sins. We will make them think they can come before God whether they are dressed in the proper attire or not.
But isn’t it enough that a person says he or she is a Christian or a Lutheran? Can’t we leave it up to them to decide if they should come forward? Let’s think of it this way: Suppose your favorite football team is having a special event for its fans. Everyone comes wearing the same colors. They share the same confidence in their team, the same loyalty. They know everything about the team’s history, the team’s failures and victories, the team’s traditions. It’s like a family.
But then a group of fans shows up wearing another team’s colors, maybe the colors of the rival team. They have very different traditions. They have different chants and cheers; they sing different songs. And they expect to be let right in to this special event. Of course they meet some resistance at the door. “Why can’t we come in?” they ask. “Don’t we love the same sport? Aren’t we all football fans? Isn’t one team just as good as another?”
We do not believe that one church is just as good as another. The different churches around us do not teach the same thing. They do not look at the Bible in the same way, and that’s even true of other Lutherans. Out of love for God and His Word, we insist that all who commune at our altar be willing to learn what the Bible teaches and express their full agreement with it. Then we have true unity, and that is a great blessing! You know that the people to the left of you and to the right of you at the Communion rail share the same faith. They are fellow believers—members with you in the family of God.
We are called together to partake of the King’s feast. The King, our heavenly Father, sent the invitation to us who were far away from Him, lost in the darkness of our own sin and unbelief. He called us to attend the wedding feast, to enter the kingdom of His Son, to receive the gifts of His righteousness and salvation.
Many are invited to the feast of God’s Son, “many are called, but few are chosen.” This should be very humbling for us. We do not deserve to receive the rich blessings of God. By nature, we were opposed to His rule, but He changed our minds and hearts by His grace. We were dressed in the filthy rags of our sin, and He made us fit to stand before Him by washing away our sin and clothing us in the perfection of Jesus.
Not one of us is worthy to receive the body and blood of our Savior in Holy Communion here on earth or to join Him at His eternal feast in heaven. But He warmly invites us and welcomes us. He knows our hearts, our struggles, our sins, and He calls us to be cleansed again by His blood, covered again in His righteousness.
“Come to the wedding feast,” He says. “The table is set for you and for all who hear the invitation with repentance and faith. Come and delight yourself with rich food! Come and be filled! Be strengthened and satisfied!” And we humbly reply:
Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee,
Let me gladly here obey Thee.
By Thy love I am invited;
Be Thy love with love requited.
From this Supper let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure.
Through the gifts Thou here dost give me
As Thy guest in heav’n receive me.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #328, v. 9)
+ + +
(picture from “Parable of the Great Banquet” by the Brunswick Monogrammist, 16th century)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, who reconciled us with God and grants us the gift of reconciliation with others, dear fellow redeemed:
When a star athlete, a talented actress, or a top student takes his or her talents to a larger community, it can often be a humbling experience. These individuals were the best in their hometown, but they find that things don’t come so easily on the big stage. They thought they were pretty good, but they learned they were not good enough.
Jesus told the crowd that had gathered around Him while He taught from the mountainside, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The people may have thought they were living a good life before God. They were trying to do what was right. They were at least as good as those around them. They maybe weren’t on the level of the scribes and Pharisees, the people who dedicated their entire lives to learning and doing the Law of God. But they were doing okay.
Jesus sent the clear message that their level of righteousness was insufficient. Even the scribes and Pharisees were not good enough to stand before God. He told the people their righteousness needed to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. To illustrate His point, Jesus brought up the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” The people knew that if they committed murder, they would have to go on trial in a human court. But as long as they did not murder, they imagined they had kept the commandment.
“Not so,” said Jesus. “This commandment is not kept by outward actions alone. It must be kept in the heart. I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” The people were completely shocked. They had never heard the Law explained in this way. If what Jesus said was true, then no one was righteous before God. If what He said was true, then they were guilty of sinning against the Fifth Commandment and all the rest of them.
To amplify His teaching, Jesus offered some examples of what keeping the commandment should look like. In this part of His sermon, He switched from addressing the crowd as a whole—using plural pronouns—to speaking to individuals, personally—using the singular pronoun. “This is for each one of you to consider in your own heart,” He was saying, including you and me today.
Jesus spoke about what to do when we have wronged another person in some way. When we remember an offense we have committed in our words or actions, we should seek to be reconciled with the one we offended. Our memory might especially be jogged as we listen to God’s Word. Jesus said when “you are offering your gift at the altar,” when you have come to hear the Word of God and glorify His name, that is when the memory of an offense may come to mind. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to convict us of our sins, which He is also doing today.
When our sins are not illuminated by the bright light of God’s Word, it is easy to think we are doing pretty well, like the people who first listened to Jesus so many years ago. The people in our community who have rejected the regular hearing and learning of the Word generally have the opinion about themselves that they are “good people.” They don’t need some preacher telling them what he thinks about God or about them.
Apart from God’s Word, it is also easy for us to justify the wrong things we have done or said or thought. “Well maybe I could have treated him better, but he treated me much worse!” “She doesn’t deserve Christian love and compassion after what she has done!” “I might have lost my temper and said some mean things, but he needed to hear it!” “I have every right to be angry with the way she hurt me!”
But God’s Law does not teach us to mistreat others if they have mistreated us. God’s Law teaches us to “[l]ove [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Mat. 5:44). Jesus says that if you “remember that your brother has something—anything—against you,” go and “be reconciled to your brother.” This thought is overwhelming. We have sinned against so many people in so many ways. How could we ever start to make amends with them all?
The place to start is with the person and situation that God has often brought to your mind—maybe someone you are thinking about right now. Very likely, your conscience has been troubled about how you treated them, but you don’t know how to fix what was broken. You tell yourself that maybe that person has forgotten what you said or doesn’t think it was a big deal. Or you worry that by admitting your wrongs to them, they will not admit the wrongs they did which hurt you. Or you are not sure they will even hear you out, and you are nervous about how they will respond.
Apologizing to someone for a sin you have committed is a hard thing, one of the hardest things to do. It is hard because apologizing makes you vulnerable. It puts your sin out in the open. It puts you at the mercy of another. And you cannot control how the other will respond. You cannot make them forgive you or apologize for their own hurtful words and actions.
So why would you ever want to go through with it? Why not just ignore the conflict in your conscience, try to forget what you have done, bury it deep? Because then you have harmed not only your neighbor, but you do tremendous harm to yourself, including spiritual harm. Jesus indicates the damage that comes if you refuse to be reconciled. He says that if you fail to “[c]ome to terms quickly with your accuser,” you will be judged and “put in prison.” And He adds that “you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Insisting on our own righteousness even when we have done wrong, and ignoring the harm we have done to another, is a recipe for losing our faith. And that leads to the eternal prison of hell. We cannot trust our own righteousness and Jesus’ righteousness. We cannot justify our own words and actions and believe we are justified by grace. The righteousness that counts before God cannot come from ourselves. It has to come from outside of us.
Just before today’s reading, Jesus told the crowd that He had not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” but “to fulfill them” (Mat. 5:17). He did not come to do away with the Law or to soften its impact. He sharpened its point, so that none could think on the basis of God’s Law that they are right with God. We feel the sharp point of the Law today. Our hearts are pierced as we think about how we have let selfishness and pride get in the way of love for our neighbors.
Our sin and guilt are why the Son of God came down from heaven and was made man in Mary’s womb. He came to fulfill all righteousness for us, to keep the holy Law of God to the smallest detail. His righteousness far exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. He never did an unkind deed, spoke an unloving word, or had a sinful thought toward any of the people around Him, not even those who wanted to destroy Him.
He went to the cross to pay for all their sins and yours and mine. He accepted the curse of the Law for us, even though He had not done anything to deserve it. He willingly took our punishment, so that we would be reconciled to God the Father. St. Paul writes that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co. 5:19,21).
We are at peace with God because Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and shed His holy blood on the cross to redeem us. Jesus was the ultimate Peacemaker. Who else could have brought together the sinful human race and the perfect God? Now Jesus wants us to be the same kind of peacemakers in our communities, workplaces, and in our homes. He doesn’t ask us to make peace by our own skills of compromise and negotiation. He expects us to extend the peace to others that He shares with us.
You may not see how you can reconcile with someone who has caused you deep pain. But Jesus can do it; it is not impossible for Him. He reconciled you with God, even though you had broken His Law time and time again. And He can reconcile you with a brother or sister in Christ, a sinner just like you.
When He pours His peace and forgiveness into you through His Word and Sacraments, it spills over into your relationships with others. Acknowledging your sins takes courage, and He will give you that courage. Humbling yourself to apologize takes strength, and He will give you that strength. God forgives all your sins, and as He works through your humble words of repentance, He can move the heart of your friend to forgive you too.
At the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9). All of you are “sons of God” through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). That means you are God’s peacemakers on this earth. As you extend His peace and seek reconciliation with others, you most certainly will be blessed, as Jesus promises.
Even if others do not return the peace to you that you extend to them, you can go forward with a clear conscience. You “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). His righteous life counts for you and all sinners and is the reason why you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
+ + +
(picture from “The Sermon of the Beatitudes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fifth Sunday of Easter & Saude Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:5-15
In Christ Jesus, who brought the light of life into this dark world, who became our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God, who has called us to be His disciples and set us free by the truth of His Word, dear fellow redeemed [and especially you, Ethan, Reese, and Marit on your Confirmation Day]:
What Jesus said in today’s reading was difficult for the disciples to understand. It was difficult for them because Jesus was speaking about things that would happen in the future. How could it ever be good for Jesus to “go away”? How could that be to their “advantage”? Hearing Jesus’ words filled their hearts with sorrow.
It has the opposite effect on us. Jesus’ words fill us with joy because we know what He accomplished. We know what happened after He talked with His disciples. Jesus gave Himself over that night to those who opposed Him, and by the next morning He let Himself be nailed to a Roman cross. This was for our redemption! It was to purchase and win us from our sins by suffering and dying in our place. And then on the third day—Easter Sunday—He rose from the dead.
He appeared to His disciples many times over the next forty days and then ascended into heaven. Ten days after that, He poured out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It was to the disciples’ advantage that Jesus go away because this would signal that His work to save sinners was complete. Only after His work was complete would “the Helper”—the Holy Spirit—come to apply His saving work to sinners.
So the work of God the Holy Spirit is based on the work of God the Son, which is based on the work of God the Father. God the Father sent His only-begotten Son to redeem the world. God’s Son perfectly fulfilled the work His Father gave Him to do. And God the Holy Spirit dispenses the benefits of Jesus’ work to you today.
But not all people acknowledge the work of God’s Son to save sinners. In fact none of us by nature recognizes or appreciates what Jesus did on our behalf. This is why the Holy Spirit must “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
The Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin,” says Jesus, “because they do not believe in Me.” The chief sin in God the Father’s eyes is not believing in the Son He has sent, not believing that He did what so many eyewitnesses report that He did. God promised to send His Son to save the world and kept His promise. Jesus carried out the work His Father gave Him to do and then returned in glory to His Father.
But the world and sometimes our own hearts say, “No big deal. I’m fine on my own without religion, without church, without God. I’ll live by my own code. I’ll make my own decisions.” This self-centered approach is why “Black Friday” gets far more attention than “Good Friday”; why the family get-togethers and egg hunts of Easter are more special than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
But what do our things get us? Pleasure and enjoyment… until these precious things break. What does self-made spirituality get us? Nothing but uncertainty, emptiness, and ongoing guilt. What do our best efforts result in? Maybe praise from the world for a time, but no matter how much we accomplish, death still comes. The Holy Spirit through the Law shows us how empty our pursuits and plans are without Jesus. He is the only one who can save us and give our life true purpose.
The Holy Spirit also convicts the world “concerning righteousness.” In other words, the Holy Spirit points out the lack of righteousness among us. This is hard for us to accept. In general, we like to think of ourselves as “good” people. We work hard at our jobs. We are loyal to our family and friends. We help others out. But if we set our righteousness next to Jesus’ righteousness, we see how different they are.
We might work hard at our jobs, but what about the times we took it easy when the boss wasn’t looking? What about the little things we snitched because we figured we deserved some extra benefits? We love our family and friends, but what about when we resented our responsibilities toward them? What about when we became angry and bitter and didn’t want to serve them anymore, brooding over how little they do for us? We do help others out sometimes, but how often have we walked away from neighbors in need?
Jesus did none of that. He perfectly served, perfectly loved, and perfectly helped His neighbors. When the disciples could no longer see Jesus’ perfect actions toward others, the Holy Spirit reminded them what Jesus had done and said. You and I have not lived as we should, but Jesus lived a perfect life for us.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment.” By living for ourselves and not Jesus, by trusting ourselves and not Jesus, we are really tying ourselves to the devil. Jesus refers to him as “the ruler of this world,” but he is a powerless ruler. He “is judged.” He has lost. To be in his camp is to have no hope. Jesus defeated him. He took away any claim the devil had on our soul. All his accusations are washed away in the blood of Jesus.
It is clear that the Holy Spirit has done this convicting work in your heart because just a little bit ago, you confessed your sin and unrighteousness. You admitted that you are by nature sinful and unclean, and that you have sinned against God by thought, word, and deed. You know that you deserve to be judged along with the devil.
But the Holy Spirit has done more than convict you of your sin. He has guided you into “all the truth.” He has brought you to faith in Jesus who was without sin, who lived a life of perfect righteousness, who triumphed over the ruler of this world. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would take what is His, which Jesus received from His Father, and would declare it to you. He would reveal what Jesus’ coming meant for the world and for every sinner in it.
He revealed this to you personally at your Baptism. [Ethan, you were baptized on October 7, Reese on April 13, Marit on May 18.] On your Baptism day, the Holy Spirit guided you into all truth. He washed you clean from your sins. He covered you in the righteousness of Jesus. He caused you to be reborn and to walk in new life. He sealed you in an everlasting covenant with God, in which God put His own powerful name on you. “You are my child,” He says, “with whom I am well pleased!”
God the Father is well pleased with you because you believe in His Son. You trust that Jesus fulfilled the holy Law for you. You trust that He paid the penalty on the cross for all your sins. You trust that He conquered your death by rising from the dead on the third day. You have not believed these things by your own power or choice. The Holy Spirit has brought you this faith through the Word of God.
That is also how He keeps you in the faith. We can’t help but think of Confirmation in the church sort of like we do Graduation. It is the culmination of a lot of work, a recognition that a standard has been reached, a stepping into a new chapter of life. But Graduation does not mean you have learned everything there is to know. If you have been taught well, you realize better than before how little you actually do know.
I hope I have taught this year’s Catechism students well enough so that they know how little they actually know. If their faith is not constantly strengthened and rooted more deeply in Jesus through His Word and Sacraments as they go on in life, they will lose their faith. And if they lose their faith, they will lose the eternal benefits of their Baptism.
The Holy Spirit works through the Word. Jesus said, “He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.” What the Holy Spirit heard, He delivered through the pens of the evangelists and apostles who recorded the inspired Word of God. You have this Word. It is working in you even now. God’s Word is a living Word that never returns to Him void (Isa. 55:11).
That is why “the ruler of this world” does his utmost to pull you away from the Word. He does the opposite of what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin; the devil tells you that whatever you choose to do is fine. The Holy Spirit convicts you of your lack of righteousness; the devil teaches you to trust your impulses and follow your heart. The Holy Spirit warns you of judgment if you deny Jesus; the devil says there is nothing to worry about, so live it up in the world!
You must stand strong against the devil’s tricks and lies, and you can by the power of the Holy Spirit. He works faithfulness and courage in you every time you receive the holy gifts of God in the means of grace. [Ethan, Reese, and Marit, you know the great importance of God’s Word and Sacraments, and we are excited to have you join us today to receive the holy body and blood of our Savior and King. We pray that you continue to come to the Lord’s house to receive His gifts, so that you will be strengthened and kept in the true faith.]
You and I need the forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation that Jesus won for us. We can’t live without them. And those things are what the Holy Spirit declares to us. Those are the things that Jesus told His disciples would come, which He then secured by His death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit verifies through the Word that The Mission to Rescue You Has Succeeded.
God rescued you from the darkness of the devil’s kingdom by baptizing you into His holy name and applying to you the holy work of Jesus. And He still “guides you into all the truth”—not just up to your Confirmation Day but as long as He gives you here, until you join Him in the glories of heaven.
+ + +
(picture from stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
The hymn we just sang describes how drastically the appearance of Jesus changed on Good Friday. By the time He was nailed to the cross, He had been repeatedly slapped and punched. His face was bruised and swollen. A crown of thorns had been driven into His skull. Blood dripped from the wounds of His scourging and from the nail holes opened in His hands and feet. All His clothes had been taken away from Him. He hung there in great shame and terrible agony.
His appearance shocked those who passed by. The prophet Isaiah wrote that “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…. [A]nd as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (52:14, 53:3). Jesus described Himself in Psalm 22 as “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (v. 6).
But the ugliness and wretchedness that could be seen was only a faint reflection of what Jesus was suffering. The greatest burden He carried was invisible. The source of His most intense pain was hidden from human eyes. Those hideous marks, that unbearable weight, came from us. “[H]e was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities…. [T]he LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5,6).
There in His disfigured face and whip-striped body, you see your sin. There in that public spectacle with the crowd laughing at Him and mocking Him, you see your shame. It is more than we can imagine. It is more than we could bear. But we must not turn away. If we don’t understand why Jesus was on the cross, then we will never understand how far we have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
This is the question that each of us must ask ourselves as we look upon the crucified Christ: “Did I do this?” It is easy to point our finger at the Jewish religious leaders. They weren’t going to stop until Jesus was dead, even if they had to tell lies and convene a sham trial to get it done. Or we can point our finger at Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers. Pilate gave the order for crucifixion, and the soldiers carried it out.
But you and I are no less guilty of Jesus’ death. He went to the cross to pay for sin. If you have ever sinned, you are complicit in His death. You should see yourself in the crowds on that Friday. You should hear your voice in the chorus calling for His crucifixion. You should picture yourself in the band of soldiers taking cheap shots at Jesus and mocking Him. You should see your face among the satisfied faces of all who watched Jesus die.
But as you look upon Jesus hanging there on the cross, He does not look back at you with anger. He looks at you with compassion liked He looked at the thief crucified nearby and at His weeping mother. The look on His face says, “I am here for you. I am here to save you. Your soul is worth this suffering. I accept this anguish and pain. I willingly take this burden.”
Jesus went to the cross out of love for you. He went there to obtain your forgiveness by pouring out His holy blood. He took into Himself and onto Himself all the ugliness of your sin, all your guilt, all your shame. This was the will of His Father. There was no other way to save you. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co. 5:21).
Your sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus on Good Friday. God doesn’t see them on you anymore. All He sees on you is the righteousness, the perfect obedience, of His Son. Jesus went to the cross to accomplish this for you. He became dirtied, so you would be cleansed of your sin. He accepted your shame, so you would have glory and honor. He became ugly, so you would be beautiful in God’s sight. He embraced your death, so you would have eternal life.
All of this was done for you. It is finished! Thanks be to God. Amen.
+ + +
(picture from Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)