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.
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 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.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from stained glass 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.
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(picture from Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)
The Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 3:13-17
In Christ Jesus, who came to take the sins that were ours and to give us the righteousness that is His, dear fellow redeemed:
We live in a time of “have it your way” Christianity. Beliefs about God are determined not so much by historic church teaching based on ancient holy texts. Beliefs about God are determined by people’s own feelings and ideas about God and how He seems to be working in their lives. So then what do they need the church for? They figure they can talk to God just as well at home or at work or out in nature as they can at church. They don’t need any pastor or know-it-all Christian telling them what to believe!
We can understand the frustration people have about “the church.” They see the church divided into tiny fragments with each one saying that it is the right one—Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics, various community churches. And there are even divisions within these groups like ELS Lutherans, LCMS Lutherans, ELCA Lutherans! People hear about scandals and abuses in the church, the manipulation of the vulnerable, the mismanagement of funds. Why would anyone want anything to do with the church?
But as imperfect as the church is in our eyes or anyone else’s eyes, God wants us to be part of it. When we speak about being part of the church, this includes both the “visible” and the “invisible” church. What we call the “visible” church is the church that can be seen, including all the different types of Christians. The visible church is divided, and because of sin it will continue to be divided until the end of time.
But the Bible also talks about the “invisible” church, the church of all believers who look to Jesus alone for their salvation. This church is perfectly united, and it is holy. This is the church the apostle Paul spoke about in his letter to the Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27).
So if we were choosing between the two, we would want to be members of the invisible church instead of the visible one, right? Actually it’s not an either/or. Simply being a part of the visible church does not save anyone. But those who are members of the invisible church by faith will also want to be members of the visible church. That is because God gathers His people around visible things: the preaching of the Word by a flesh and blood man like you and the administration of the Sacraments with the visible means of water, bread, and wine.
He calls us out of our homes and away from a solitary existence to join together with fellow believers. The author to the Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25).
That emphasis on joining together, on community and communion, is seen in our Lord’s institution of Baptism. He told the apostles that the discipling of all nations would happen and must happen through their personal interaction. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” He said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20).
Never in the Bible do we read about a person baptizing himself, in the same way that the Bible does not teach us to forgive ourselves or privately give ourselves Communion. These gifts come to us from God through others. If anyone would have seemed qualified to baptize Himself or give Communion to Himself, it was Jesus. But Jesus did not do this.
Look at what happened at His Baptism. Jesus came to the Jordan River where John was baptizing, and He stepped down in the water. John knew enough about Jesus to know that he was in the presence of a godly man. “I need to be baptized by You,” said John, “and do You come to me?” And in the first words we hear from Jesus as an adult, He said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus let a sinful man baptize Him, even though He was perfectly holy. So what was the Baptism for? Everyone else was coming to John to be baptized because they recognized how sinful they were. Jesus came declaring His righteousness: “Baptize Me,” He said, “in order to fulfill all righteousness.”
You might think of Jesus’ Baptism as the reverse of our Baptism. We were baptized for the forgiveness of sin, to receive the righteousness of God through faith. Jesus was baptized not to receive forgiveness, but to receive our sin—not to become righteous which He already was, but to take our unrighteousness upon Himself.
Jesus submitted to Baptism as the public beginning of His work to save us sinners. It was as though He said, “I accept the task. I am ready for the trial. I will give Myself for all sinners. I will suffer and die their death.” That was His message when He told John, “thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then the heavens opened, and Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. And the Father said from above, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
All of this has great significance for your Baptism. Most of you were brought by others to the font—you didn’t bring yourself. And all of you were baptized by another sinner’s hand. (Some of you here today were even baptized by this sinner.) Through Baptism you became a member of both the visible church where you were baptized and the invisible church which is the holy body of Jesus. You were joined to the company of others—sinners, yes, but also saints cleansed “by the washing of water with the word… holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26,27).
This is not something you chose. Your Baptism was a gift from God to you. At your Baptism, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit came upon you, and the Father said through His holy Word, “You are My beloved Child, with whom I am well pleased.” God looks at you in this way because your Baptism was a Baptism into the death and resurrection of His holy Son (Rom. 6:4). The forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross was given to you at your Baptism, and so was the victory He won over your death.
God did all this for you. He brought you into His holy church. But just because you were brought into the church at one point, does not mean your membership is permanent. We see all the time members leaving the visible church, and God also sees members leave the invisible church. They leave by denying their sinfulness and their need to repent. They leave because they have elevated their own will and desires over God’s will.
This is how the devil and our own sinful flesh tempt each one of us. They tempt us to embrace the “have it your way” mentality. “Why should you have to worry about anyone else?” they say. “Live the way you want to! Make the decisions that are best for you! Don’t be bothered by the outdated rules of God’s Word. He will accept you no matter what you do!”
But God is not mocked. He did not claim us out of the world, baptize us into His holy name, make us His children and heirs of eternal life so that we would live as though none of that happened. He chose us out of the world. He delivered us from the devil’s kingdom of darkness. He rescued us from eternal death. He did all that so that we would have life in Him. He did all that so that we would live for Him.
Why did Jesus step down into that water? It was to “fulfill all righteousness.” Only He could do that because only He has ever been righteous. Except for Him, the Bible says that “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psa. 14:3). You and I have not done any good on our own. There is no good apart from God. All of us have sinned. And yet our merciful Lord called us to His gracious waters of life.
He brought you to the baptismal font by the hands of your parents or sponsors. He spoke His powerful, life-giving words through the mouth of your pastor. At your Baptism, He Poured His Righteousness over You, He washed your sins out of you, and He took up residence inside of you.
You did nothing in Baptism—all of it was done for you. That’s what makes it so comforting. Even knowing how your future would look, how you would at times despise His good gifts and choose to follow your way instead of His, He still brought you to those waters of life. And now He calls you to continuously return to those waters.
You return to the cleansing waters of His forgiveness and righteousness by repenting of your sins and trusting His promise of grace toward you. As He speaks His absolution to you, He strengthens you to deny the desires of your sinful flesh and live for Him. And He also invites you to be renewed and refreshed by His holy body and blood as you make your journey through this life.
You do not walk alone. You walk together with all the baptized—those who confess the faith with you in this congregation, and those who are living members of the body of Christ Jesus. His righteousness covers over you and all who trust in Him, and it makes you fit to enter His heavenly kingdom.
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 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
The Second to Last Sunday of the Church Year – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:31-46
In Christ Jesus, who in His mercy does not give us what we deserve, and in His grace gives us what we do not deserve, dear fellow redeemed:
You could see it coming. She wasn’t as mobile as she used to be. The yard that she had kept so meticulously was beginning to get overgrown. So you offered to help her. You would be happy to mow her lawn, shovel her sidewalk, do any odd jobs she needed done. That’s what neighbors do. And she was always very grateful. She offered to pay you, but you told her it was easy to run over and take care of things since you are outside anyway. So she paid you with smiles and waves and thank yous and fresh-baked cookies. You got close to your neighbor and she got close to you.
But her health declined still more. The time came for her to move from her home to receive more care. You continued to keep up her lawn and visit her in the nursing home. You were not surprised when you received the call that she had died, but you were sad—a good neighbor and a good friend gone.
A couple weeks later, your phone rang. It was your neighbor’s lawyer asking you to be present for the reading of her will. That was a surprise! It was even more surprising to find no one else in attendance on the appointed day. The lawyer began to read. Your neighbor left a message of love and thankfulness for all your kindnesses. Then she proceeded to say that everything she owned she was giving to you. Unknown to anyone around her—including you—she had a significant fortune. Just like that, ten million dollars was yours!
You were in shock. Sure, you had helped her, but not ten million dollars’ worth! You helped her out of kindness, not expecting anything in return. This was truly humbling. In fact, you felt some guilt. You wished you had done more for her, spent more time with her. Your effort was so small compared to this massive gift. It was a totally incomprehensible and undeserved inheritance.
This is how it is with the inheritance our heavenly Father gives us. We don’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it. But He freely gives it. Notice how when Jesus names all the wonderful things the righteous do, the righteous wonder when they have done all these things. In their estimation, they haven’t done anything. And Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”
Every good thing that we do out of love for God and for one another is counted as a good work before God. Many of these things are small in our sight: preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, pitching in to help our co-workers, sharing a kind word, encouraging the hurting, praying for those in need. Jesus sees it all. He delights in it, as though it were done directly for Him.
That is comforting to hear. But then we think about all the times we have not done good. We didn’t want to change our plans to help someone else. We complained when a hurting soul wanted more of our time than we wanted to give. We decided not to reach out to someone who had experienced loss because we weren’t sure what to say. We accepted all the praise for a job well done, but we passed the blame for a job done poorly. Would we treat Jesus this way? He said to the unrighteous, “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
The scene in today’s Gospel is Judgment Day, when the Son of Man comes in His glory and sits on His glorious throne. “Judgment Day” has a scary sound to it. It sounds like a dark day, a day we would rather avoid. Jesus says that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mat. 12:36). And in words that are included in the Athanasian Creed, He says that on the last day all the dead will come out of their tombs—“those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Joh. 5:29).
Are you ready to stand before the holy Son of God and give an account for every careless word you have spoken? Are you ready to give an account of all you have done? This is where some think they can balance the ledger themselves. “Let’s see: I said something that wasn’t very nice, but then I made up for it by giving some compliments. I used to be more selfish, but now I am generous with my gifts. I ignored my neighbor once when he needed help, but I have helped many others since then.”
But there is no excuse for our bad behavior, and there is no making up for our own wrongs. Trying to justify ourselves puts us in the camp of the unrighteous who unsuccessfully argue that if they had seen Jesus in need, they would have certainly helped Him. If we think we can stand before Jesus and plead the cause of our own righteousness, we will be condemned to eternal punishment.
So what hope do we have? If we can’t make things right with God, how can we possibly gain eternal life? We have eternal life because God made things right with us. It is strange for us to hear Jesus list all the good things the righteous have done. Compared with Jesus, the righteous really haven’t done a thing! He is the one who gave food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. He is the one who welcomed strangers and treated them kindly. He is the one who helped the sick and needy. He perfectly fulfilled the law of love toward His neighbors. He did not fail anyone in any way.
And that is the key to the words that Jesus speaks about the righteous. They are not righteous because of what they have done. They are righteous because of what He has done. Our righteousness comes from Him. It is bestowed on us by Him. Romans 4:4-5 says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” We have not earned righteousness by our own works; we receive righteousness by faith in Jesus.
His righteousness is complete. It does not require anything from us. He has fully kept the law for us. Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The gift of His righteousness is reflected in His words to the sheep at the right of His throne. “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Jesus says that the righteous are those who are blessed by God the Father. They are the ones who are credited with Jesus’ righteousness. They are the ones who are cleansed by His holy blood. These are invited to inherit the Father’s kingdom. To leave no question how the righteous obtain this inheritance, Jesus says that “the kingdom [has been] prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” If the inheritance has been prepared from the foundation of the world, it can’t be something the righteous have earned. The kingdom of heaven is a gift. It is like the ten million dollar inheritance that you do not deserve.
This eternal inheritance is yours. Jesus’ death on the cross secured it, and His resurrection from the grave verifies it. The righteous are all those who deny their own righteousness and trust in Jesus only. The unrighteous are those who rely on their own efforts and expect God to reward them for their good behavior. You are righteous by faith in your Savior. You do not lack anything because He did everything for you.
He will not make a mistake on the last day. He will not send you to punishment. Every careless word you have spoken, every sinful thing you have done, has been blotted out by Jesus’ blood. Through Your Baptism, Jesus’ forgiveness was applied to you, and His perfect righteousness was placed over you. You are clean and holy in God’s sight.
As His righteous one, you reflect His righteousness by what you say and do. You help and serve your neighbor not because you are trying to build up righteousness before God. You help and serve your neighbor because you are righteous. And all those righteous words and actions which are possible only because of what Jesus has done for you, He counts them as having been done for Him!
So we do not look toward Judgment Day with dread. We look toward Judgment Day with confidence and anticipation. On that day we will be judged right with God by faith in Jesus. Jesus tells us that on the day of His glorious return, we should not cower in fear. You and I should “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luk. 21:28).
Judgment Day for us is Inheritance Day. It is the day when all that our merciful Father has promised us, all that is already ours by faith, we will enjoy in all its fullness. In Jesus’ holy presence, we will not be thinking about anything we have done. We will praise Him for everything He has freely given to us—an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us]” (1Pe. 1:4)—to enjoy for all eternity.
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(picture from “The Last Judgment” by Fra Angelico, c. 1395-1455)
The Second Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 20) – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 22:1-14
In Christ Jesus, who by His life and death prepared for you the Feast of Salvation and by the power of His Word invites you to partake of it freely, both now and forever, dear fellow redeemed:
In our text today we see Jesus teaching those around Him during Holy Week. Just a few days later He would go to the cross and lay down His life for the entire world. He is teaching believers and unbelievers alike the chief doctrine of salvation, which points directly to Himself. He is showing the people how they can be saved. He describes for them a king who is preparing a wedding feast for His Son, a very exciting celebration and many people would be invited.
The king in this parable is a picture of God the Father and his son is a picture of Jesus the eternal Son of God. This is the Son’s wedding feast and He is eagerly awaiting the invited guests, His bride the church. The king has prepared a great meal for this celebration and His Son sits in the place of honor because He has accomplished everything. All things are ready because the Son offered what was necessary.
The Son of God was given as a sacrifice for all sin and the Father in heaven accepted the sacrifice and granted forgiveness to the whole world. It is an open invitation; salvation is accomplished and offered to all people. The call to the Feast of Salvation is for everyone, but not everyone will be a guest.
Throughout history many have ignored the invitation to this feast, the invitation of the gospel. God sent prophets throughout the Old Testament and many people were too preoccupied with their businesses and their daily tasks turning away not wanting to listen.
So God sent His one and only Son and still many persecuted, ignored and eventually nailed Him to a cross. Then God sent apostles and other messengers throughout the New Testament and again many people ignored, persecuted and even killed them. The same things happen to faithful preachers and missionaries throughout the world today.
Despite all this sin and blatant disregard for the truth, God never forgot His promises to us. He could have said, “enough is enough these people are unworthy of my Word,” but on account of His undeserved love God continues to send His Word to us. No matter what kind of person you have been in your life forgiveness is yours by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Word invites you, it calls out to you exposing your sin and convinces you of the truth that you cannot do anything apart from Jesus and must trust in Him and in Him alone for salvation. He calls all people into the feast, offered to us by the Father in heaven prepared by the Work of His Son Jesus. He sends out His servants to go to the busy streets and roads, where there would be lots of traffic to find as many people as they can. He wants them to fill this feast with as many guests as possible both good and bad.
Now “bad and good” does not mean sinners and non-sinners, it means that some of these people may have appeared good on the outside and some appeared bad on the outside. This is how people perceive others and judge them by what they see on the outside, but no matter how we see them all people are sinners. We know then that this feast of salvation is prepared for, and filled with, sinners.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans it tells us that, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is how he demonstrates His love for us, by coming to save sinners like you and me. He did not come for the self-righteous people who think they are just fine on their own. Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
These sinners are like people struck with hunger so badly they can no longer stand and are wasting away, like someone nearing death due to starvation. Where can they receive the food and nourishment to give them strength to stand firm again, what food can satisfy the hunger of a sinner? God’s Word is life-giving food to those hear it, and His Sacraments bring this food directly to them. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). God’s Word truly satisfies those who are hungry.
This Feast of Salvation was prepared for you by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and it is served to you right here and right now. Jesus is served to you directly, on a plate and in a cup. His righteousness and forgiveness are poured out upon you. His body and blood are given here for you and me; we receive the blessings of salvation now upon our lips and in our stomachs. We consume his very body and blood and the righteousness received from it, fuels our soul.
On account of this reality it is necessary to take the presence of Christ’s body and blood seriously. We do this each time we hear the exhortation in the Service of Holy Communion. Those who do not examine themselves properly, who do not believe they truly feast on the body and blood of Jesus eat to their judgment. Christ’s body and blood is no longer a benefit to them but instead causes spiritual harm. This is the reason our churches practice closed communion.
St. Paul taught the Corinthian church and all hearers of his letter that the Lord’s Supper must be approached seriously and soberly. He wrote: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:29–30). Out of concern for our neighbors and ourselves we want to make sure that people correctly believe what the Lord’s Supper is.
It should also concern us how we do not always approach the gifts of God’s Word and Sacraments in the right way. Sometimes we neglect coming to hear His Word and fail to truly recognize the importance of what He is giving us, taking them for granted. We think we are doing just fine on our own, that the clothes of our own self-righteousness look pretty good. We think our seat at the Feast of Salvation will be there for us whether God’s Word is a priority right now or not.
We become so preoccupied with the things of this life that coming to receive the Lord’s Word and Sacraments becomes less important. When we do come it’s tempting and easy to appear at the feast but have no regard for the garment that God requires, the very thing the host of the feast has provided for us.
It can be tempting for us to come in and go through the motions of a church service. It’s easy to think that just by walking in the door, and half-heartedly participating we have done what God expects of us and that He is now pleased with us. It’s because of our own sinful nature that we fall into the habit of doing the bare minimum; naively thinking God expects just the bare minimum from us.
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah saying, “these people honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him” (Matt. 15:8–9). These people do lip service to God but lack in their heart true repentance and faith. Repentance is needed before the king comes and finds them speechless, “binding them hand and foot and casting them out into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13).
You cannot stand before the Father in your ragged torn up clothes of self-righteousness and sin. But you can stand before Him in the wedding garment that Jesus provides, the garment of His righteousness.
Christ purchased and won salvation for each and every one of you by living sinless under the law and laying down His perfect life in death. Jesus has prepared the Feast of Salvation for you and by His powerful Word and Sacraments has called you into it and clothed you with His righteousness forever.
You have been offered this beautiful wedding garment and are now dressed in it by faith receiving it by the power of the Holy Spirit. This ornate attire could not have been provided by you but has been graciously provided by your Savior.
The prophet Isaiah knew this well, he wrote, “My soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10).
This righteousness is not only on the outside; this garment of salvation covers all your sins on the inside as well. It covers all the sins of your heart and mind, your secret sins, sins of laziness and discontentment, the sin of putting other things before God and taking His grace for granted.
The Son of God’s righteous blood has blotted out each one of them. The perfect life and the sacrificial death of your Lord won righteousness and salvation for you; they are yours by faith, covering you completely and erasing your sin forever.
God the Father sees you entirely righteous and pure in His sight. Everything is prepared, the celebration has begun and you are an honored guest of the Son. You are joined with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and you will recline at the Feast of Salvation forever.
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(picture from “Parable of the Great Banquet” by the Brunswick Monogrammist, 16th century)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who taught us the way of compassion and mercy by giving Himself fully for the needs of His neighbors, dear fellow redeemed:
In the summertime, parents can be a little more lenient with their kids. With no bus to catch in the morning, they might let the kids sleep in a bit. With no homework to do or school deadlines to meet, kids have more flexibility with how they spend their time. But school is back in session. That means it’s time to buckle down again.
When school starts, parents become less accepting of non-committal answers. When they see their kids lounging around and wasting time, and they ask, “Is your homework finished?” they are not looking for an “almost,” or “it won’t take me long.” What they want to know is whether the homework is “done” or “not done.” When it comes to homework, those are the only two categories!
They are the same two categories that apply to God’s holy Law. God’s Law is either done or not done. Today’s reading tells us about an expert in the Law who seemed to recognize that his keeping of the Law was not done. He asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Then at Jesus’ prompting, he summarized the Ten Commandments: You shall love God perfectly and your neighbor as yourself. “You have answered correctly,” said Jesus, “do this, and you will live.”
Then we learn that the expert in the Law thought he actually had done what was required. He thought he was holy according to God’s Commandments. But he wasn’t. He might have understood the Law intellectually, but he did not know the Law spiritually. He might have appeared to keep the Law outwardly, but he had not kept it in his heart.
How we read the Law is very important. We don’t want to misunderstand it, and we don’t want to misapply it. Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer shows how easily both things can happen. You and I have something in common with this lawyer—we know what God demands in His Law. We know the Ten Commandments. There is another thing we have in common with this man. We think we have done a fair job of keeping the Commandments. We know we have not kept them perfectly, but compared to a lot of people around us, we think we have done pretty well at living the way God wants.
But this comparison with others is where we get into trouble. It shows a misunderstanding of the Law. When we think we have done better than others, we have actually set aside the Law. Remember that God’s Law is either done or not done. If we haven’t kept it fully, then there’s no use pointing out how we are better than others. That’s like boasting about a second-to-last finish in a field of a hundred competitors. And if we misunderstand our own failure to keep the Law, we will certainly misapply it. We will read it as though it condemns the sins of others while letting us off the hook.
The Law doesn’t let anyone off the hook. St. Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly in his letter to the Romans: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). He wrote the same thing in his letter to the Galatians: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” (Gal. 3:10-11).
The primary job of the Law is to smash the pride that is constantly rearing its ugly head inside us. The Law functions kind of like those robbers lurking in the shadows. We walk along, thinking we’ve got it together. We find it easy to justify our sinful actions, words, and thoughts, and we are quick to judge the weaknesses of others. We are focused on ourselves and not on the needs of those around us.
And BOOM! the Law hits us. We often don’t see it coming. Suddenly our sin catches up to us, and we realize how flawed we really are. We see how lacking we are in love. We see how we have been living for ourselves and not for God. The Law knocks us flat on our backs and strips away everything we place our trust in in this life—our works, our accomplishments, our status. Nothing is left but our sins. The Law is ruthless. It shows no mercy. It gives no hope.
Suppose the Law had done its work, and you shared your guilt with a friend, laying bare all the ugly thoughts and intentions of your sinful heart. And your well-meaning friend tries to encourage you, “You are being too hard on yourself! You are a wonderful, good, kind person! You are one of the best!” That’s like a priest or a Levite seeing the man half-dead and passing by on the other side because “he’s going to be just fine!” Fluffy compliments or rosy sentiments are no help. When your eyes are open to your sin, when the Law shows you how you really are, you don’t need someone telling you that everything is okay.
What you need is a Good Samaritan. You need someone to bind up your wounds, carry you to safety, and nurse you back to health. That’s what Jesus does. He sees you in your sin, broken by the Law, and He has compassion on you. He knows what bad shape you and all sinners are in. That’s why He took on your flesh. He came “to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5). He came to do what you are incapable of doing. He came to fulfill the Law.
The Law didn’t catch Him by surprise. It didn’t knock Him down. The Law is His. God established the Law as a reflection of His perfect nature. He gave it to show what it means to be right with Him. And before the first man and woman sinned, they were right with Him. Their lives perfectly conformed to His holy will. But their sin ruined that Paradise. Now nothing they tried to do was perfect. Everything was tainted by sin.
Jesus came to reverse and repair all that. He lived His life in total conformity to the Law. He was tempted in every way just as we are, but He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and He perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived that life of perfect love for you. He kept the Law completely for you. His holy life is yours—credited to you—by faith.
And He went to the cross to make atonement for your all sins against the holy Law. Every infraction, large and small, was counted against Him on the cross. All your arrogance, all your pride, your judgmental attitude toward others, your denial of your own sinfulness, your failure to help a neighbor in need—Jesus accepted the full wrath of God for all of it. The blood He shed cleanses you from every sin. Each and every sin is forgiven.
But you might not always feel like your sins are forgiven. You might still feel guilty for the things you have done and said and the terrible things you have imagined. This is why Jesus gives His Word and Sacraments. These are the means for your healing and strength. Through His Word of Absolution, Jesus returns you to the cleansing waters of your Baptism, where the wounds of your sins are washed clean. And through the food and drink of His Supper, He applies the medicine of His body and blood to bring you spiritual healing and strength.
Jesus sees how you struggle. He knows the countless ways you have fallen short of the Commandments. But He does not leave you for dead on the treacherous highway of this life. He has compassion on you. He has compassion because His love is not fickle like ours is. His love does not change or diminish. His love is perfect.
That perfect love counts as your keeping of the holy Law. All that He is and all that He accomplished is yours by faith. By faith in Him, the Law is done for you. It is fulfilled. That’s what Romans 10:4 tells us: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” We no longer have the pressure of trying to be righteous through our works. Perfect righteousness is ours by faith.
But while the Law is done for us before God, there is plenty for us to do for our neighbors. There are so many around us beaten and broken by their own sin and the sin of others. There are so many crushed by the Law and feeling despair. Our neighbors don’t need priests and Levites who turn up their noses at the thought of being inconvenienced or getting their hands dirty. Our neighbors don’t need Christians who talk a good game but hardly lift a finger to help.
Our neighbors need compassion. They need mercy. We give them these things when we lend a sympathetic ear or a helping hand. And we also share with them what they need the most. We give them Jesus—His healing, His promise, His grace through the message of the Gospel. Jesus tells us to go and do this. The Good Samaritan is a picture for us, not of how we can fulfill the Law and get ourselves to heaven by our works. The Good Samaritan is a picture of Jesus’ love which He has shown to us, and which He gives us the opportunity and the privilege to show to others.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, whose righteous life fulfilled every detail of God’s holy law for you and for all people, dear fellow redeemed:
If I were to have a major injury, like multiple broken bones in my leg, there are two ways I could approach the recovery. I could wrap up and mobilize my leg as well as I could and hope for everything to heal up on its own. This might result in my being able to walk again but probably not without difficulties. The bones would not be set quite right.
The other option would be to go and see a doctor who specializes in broken bones. He could put everything back in place, apply plates and screws as needed, and monitor the progress. Given enough time, the bones would likely heal just as they were before. It seems obvious what choice I should make. I should not trust what I can do. I should trust the specialist who is confident he can save my leg and make it all right again.
But in the area of righteousness before God, many people take the opposite approach. They think they can fix what is broken on their own, and it only makes the problem worse. Righteousness before God is when my life matches up with God’s requirements for my life. His Ten Commandments establish the boundary markers for what is correct, upright behavior. His law shows whether the things I have done, said, and thought are justifiable before Him.
So it is clear that we will not be able to understand righteousness unless we understand God’s law. This is Jesus’ focus in His words today from the Sermon on the Mount. Just before today’s text, Jesus said that He did not come to abolish or destroy “the Law and the Prophets,” but to fulfill them (Mat. 5:17). He did not come to relax God’s standard, to make it more comfortable for sinners to remain in their sins. He came to sharpen the law, or to sharpen the people’s consciences in response to the law.
He sounded a clear warning, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 19). And before the people could imagine that they were among the “great” ones in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
That was a shocking statement. The scribes and Pharisees were widely seen as the “good people,” the ones who scrupulously followed God’s law. And now Jesus was saying that even such a disciplined, committed life was not sufficient. God demands more. A good life does not fulfill His law. God requires a perfect life (v. 48).
The old Adam, our sinful nature, cannot tolerate this. It tells us that God has set the bar too high. He can’t really expect us to be perfect! After all, God loves us, and it isn’t loving to make rules that no one can follow. So then we do the very thing Jesus said He would not do. We abolish the law, or at least we set it aside whenever it suits us. Or we reinterpret the law so that it can accommodate our sins.
All of us have done this. We got caught doing or saying something we shouldn’t have, but we were quick to justify the wrong:
- “I lost my temper because they kept provoking me!”
- “I hit him because he hit me first!”
- “I took that because they owed me!”
This week I became aware of a Pew Research Center report which was released less than a year ago (8/31/20). The topic was sex outside of marriage. 57% of Christians surveyed—more than half—said that “sex between unmarried adults in a committed relationship” is acceptable. Slightly less of the Christians surveyed, 50% of them, said that “casual sex between consenting adults” is acceptable. This is not at all what the Bible says. The Bible says that sex is a gift from God that is to be exercised within marriage only. So either the Christians surveyed don’t know what God’s Word teaches, or they don’t think it is all that serious or important.
So we Christians go forward thinking that we have lived a pretty good life and have little to be ashamed of. But Jesus says, “If you think you have lived a righteous life, let’s take a closer look at what God’s law demands.” He points to the Fifth Commandment. Haven’t you and I kept that one—“You shall not murder”? Jesus says this commandment is also broken by those who have been angry with a brother, or insulted someone, or spoken harshly toward someone.
Do you find yourself justifying your anger? Maybe someone crossed a line you told them not to cross. Maybe someone you trusted betrayed you. Maybe you’ve been bullied. You were sinned against in these circumstances, and that isn’t right. But it does not give you the right to be angry. It does not give you the right to speak harshly toward and about another. It does not give you the right to treat somebody like dirt.
Jesus says, “if you are offering your gift at the altar 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.” Jesus does not say that we should wait for others to come to us. He does not say we should hold their sins against them. He says that if we have sinned in any way against someone else—even if they committed the greater sin—we should apologize and seek to be reconciled.
This is really hard. This runs against our own idea of justice, which often looks a lot like revenge. Our failure to love our neighbor as God commands should show us that we are not capable of fixing everything we have broken. Most of us don’t have the knowledge and ability to properly set our own broken bones. None of us has the ability to fix our breaking of God’s holy law.
But there is an expert Fixer, a Specialist who is able to set things right again. Jesus said He came to fulfill the law. He came to keep it, every detail. He was able to do this because He was not a man who inherited Adam’s sin like the rest of us. He was a man without sin. He was God incarnate, God in the flesh. Because God became Man, He was obligated to keep His own law. This was not for His own benefit—He was already righteous from eternity. Jesus kept the law for your benefit and mine.
The righteousness that the law demands was supplied for us by our Savior Jesus. He is the one who perfectly honored His parents. He is the one who never wronged His neighbor. He is the one who lived a sexually pure life. All the ways we have broken God’s law, Jesus set right with His own perfect life.
Does that mean everyone in the world is now righteous before God? Jesus kept the law for everyone, but not everyone is credited with His righteousness. Some have no remorse for their sins. They don’t care what God commands, and they fully intend to continue in their sins. Others recognize their sins, but they think they can supply the righteousness that God requires. They think they can make up for the bad; they can balance out their bad with their good. These sinners are outside of God’s grace. They will have to answer for their own unrighteousness.
But all who trust in Jesus alone for righteousness are righteous. St. Paul writes that “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:21-22). And again, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). So the righteousness you need is obtained by faith in Jesus.
This faith was given to you at your Baptism, which means that Jesus’ righteousness was given to you at your Baptism. Today’s Epistle lesson from Romans 6 says that through Baptism your sins were buried. You died to sin and were raised with Jesus, so that now you walk in newness of life. Now you walk in His life.
What Makes a Person Righteous is his or her connection to Jesus. Jesus is the only one who is righteous by His own doing. He lived that righteous life for you, and then He died to erase all the wrongs you have done. The standard of righteousness before God has never changed and never will change. Jesus met that standard for you.
And He meets you now through His Word and Sacraments to keep delivering His righteousness and forgiveness to you. There is no justification for your sinning. There is no good excuse for the wrong you have done. But Jesus wants you to know that He is not angry with you. He does not condemn you for your sins. He died for you. He looks upon you now as though you never sinned against Him. And He promises to help you look at the sinners around you in the same way.
You will not find justice in this life for all the wrongs that have been done to you. And you will not be able to fix all the wrongs you have done to others. But you will always find forgiveness and healing in Jesus. You will find strength through Him to show love and kindness to others whether or not love and kindness have been shown to you.
Even when your best intentions and your best efforts fail, you stand righteous before God for Jesus’ sake. By faith in Him, you have a righteousness that satisfies the requirement of God’s holy law, a righteousness that guarantees that you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Rudolf Yelin the Older, 1912)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who in mercy brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Luk. 1:52-53), dear fellow redeemed:
In some places, you would hardly go a day without seeing a homeless person. In our communities, you might not see one in a calendar year. When you do happen to see one, what is your gut reaction? Is it disgust? Compassion? Curiosity? You probably find it hard to imagine how the person got to be in that situation. Isn’t there some family member or friend who could help them? Couldn’t they just get a job?
The solution to homelessness is hardly ever so simple. We can’t tell by looking at them what is in their past, what difficulties they might have experienced. Their homelessness might be self-inflicted due to poor choices they have made or even from laziness. Or they may be victims of circumstances outside of their control, like terrible mistreatment by others or serious mental illness.
From the information we have about Lazarus, we don’t know how he became a beggar. It could very well have been a mixture of wrongs done by others along with poor choices he had made. When we are introduced to him, he had already lost everything—a home, personal possessions, and good health.
We can picture him, skin and bones, dressed in rags, flies buzzing around, Lazarus groaning, hardly able to lift his face or an empty hand, dogs sniffing him and licking his sores. The best that he could hope for, the thing that filled his thoughts every day, was the possibility of table scraps. The rich man didn’t need those, Lazarus wouldn’t be any trouble, just let him have a little of what was heading for the landfill.
The status and appearance of the rich man was exactly the opposite. He was healthy, lots of meat on his bones, clothed in purple and fine linen, more than enough food, plenty of friends and admirers, thoughts filled with parties and pleasures. People wanted to know him. They wanted his attention. They wanted to be like him. He was the guy you hoped to see at a fundraiser, the guy you wanted on the board of directors. The rich man mattered. The beggar did not matter.
But then something happened, something that put the beggar and the rich man on exactly the same level. That something does not care if a person is homeless or lives in a mansion, if he has mere pennies or millions of dollars. That something is death. No one can escape it. No amount of money can buy one’s way out of it. Lazarus might have died sooner than the rich man, but both of them died.
Some people might hear this and say, “It is true that death comes to everyone, but as long as we are here, we would rather live rich than poor!” So their whole focus in this life is gathering and growing, more things, nicer things, fun and games, parties and pleasures. Jesus told a parable about this, about a rich farmer who was so successful that he decided to do nothing but “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luk. 12:19). He did not give thanks to God. He did not think about the needs of his neighbor. He thought only about himself. And God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20).
If we live only for the riches of this life, we might look impressive to the people around us—they might know our name—, but we really have nothing, nothing that matters. This is the central thought in today’s text. Everything is backward from how it appears. The wealthy one wasn’t really the rich man, it was Lazarus. The rich man appeared to have it all but lost everything he valued. The beggar appeared to have nothing but gained greater riches than this world can comprehend.
What was it that reversed their fortunes so completely? The difference was faith. Lazarus believed that even though he had nothing, even though he suffered, God still loved him and would take him to heaven by His grace. The rich man had no time for God, or if he mentioned God, it was only lip-service. He may have talked about “being blessed,” and “having God smile upon him,” but he really thought he was the master of his own success. He had everything he wanted—what more could he need from God?
The rich man was actually a beggar, but he didn’t know it. This is the fatal error that so many still make today. We are all beggars—all of us rich and poor, powerful and weak—every single one of us is a nobody and we have nothing apart from the merciful Lord. We need the spiritual gifts that only God can give us. And He wants to give them—He is eager to give them. How does He give them? It’s through “Moses and the Prophets.”
“Moses and the Prophets” is a shorthand way of talking about the entire Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written down yet, so “Moses and the Prophets” referred to the whole of the inspired Word of God that the people had access to. That means they had the Law of God which revealed their sinfulness. And they had the clear promise of salvation through the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Through this powerful Word, the Holy Spirit worked repentance and faith. He opened people’s eyes to recognize how far they had fallen away from God, and also to see His ongoing love and compassion toward them. This is how Lazarus came to possess everything spiritually though he had nothing physically. Whatever the reasons for his homelessness, he repented of his sins and trusted in his Savior. His stomach was empty, but his heart was full, full of faith, full of hope, full of love.
He had more than meets the eye. And the same is true for you. You may not have much that catches people’s attention. You might not wear the latest styles of clothing or have a very nice house. You may not be well-known or well-respected. Your best might never seem good enough. The fact is, you are just a temporary inhabitant of this world. You will come and go, and sooner or later your name will be forgotten.
The world will forget your name, but God does not. Ancient history books have no record of the beggar Lazarus whom we hear about in today’s Gospel reading, but God knew him. His name was recorded in the Book of Life. So is yours. Your name is written there because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, poured out His blood to pay for your sins.
Your spiritual poverty was no one’s fault but your own. And Jesus took all your sins on Himself, all your filthy rags of unrighteousness, and He suffered and died in your place. Like Lazarus, He was put outside the gate. He was covered in painful wounds, bleeding, naked, nothing to satisfy His thirst, surrounded by dogs (Psa. 22:16), no one showing mercy. He did that for you, so that you would have a seat at the Master’s table, clothed in brilliant attire, eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
Jesus completely reversed your fortunes. You deserve what the rich man ended up with—eternal torment in hell. Instead you have what Lazarus received—life in the holy name of Jesus. You were dressed in the rags of your own works that could not hide your sins. Now through Holy Baptism, you are clothed in the garments of Jesus’ righteousness. You were hungry for forgiveness and peace with God, unable to come into His presence. Now through Holy Communion, Jesus comes to you and gives you His own holy body and cleansing blood for the remission of your sins.
You, my fellow beggars, are rich—rich beyond compare! You have everything you need for eternal life in heaven. But what if you don’t feel rich? What if the weight of the bad things you have done keeps getting heavier and heavier? What if you can’t shake the burden of guilt over the pain you have caused, the people you have hurt? What if your sins are more than meets the eye, way more than anybody else knows about? God knows about them. He knows all the reasons you are not worthy to stand before Him or receive His grace.
But He has also put me here to speak these words, and He has brought you here to listen to them. The words I am called to speak are these: Your sins are forgiven. You are no longer separated from God. He is not angry with you. He has redeemed you. He paid the price for your soul, because He wants you to spend eternity with Him in His bright kingdom. All of your sins have been erased from your record by the blood of Jesus. You might still remember them, others might know them, but God does not see them anymore.
You are no longer a beggar with nothing. You are a child of God who has everything. You have a Father in heaven who loves you so deeply that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to save you. You have a Savior who is so gracious toward you that He wants you to have everything that is His, everything that He obtained by His own tears, sweat, and blood. You have the Holy Spirit who comes to you through the Word of God filling you with comfort, hope, and peace.
You Have More Than Meets the Eye. You don’t need what the rich man had. You need what Lazarus had. And you do have it by the grace of God. Through Moses and the Prophets, through the Evangelists and the Apostles, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have faith in Jesus, who made Himself nothing for your sake (Phi. 2:7), “so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
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(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Festival of the Reformation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 1:16-17
In Christ Jesus, who “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Ti. 3:5), dear fellow redeemed:
Who is responsible for the Reformation movement? The answer that comes immediately to mind is Martin Luther, the bold monk from Wittenberg, Germany. But that is not really correct. The one who brought about the Reformation was God the Holy Spirit. The Reformation did not grow out of someone’s personality, personal strength, or intellectual ability. It grew out of the powerful Word of God.
To be specific, the Reformation can be said to have grown out of the short text before us today from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It may seem straightforward and comforting to us, but it was terribly perplexing to Martin Luther. The part that troubled him the most was the part about “the righteousness of God.” He said these words “struck [his] conscience like lightning” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 54, p. 193), and that they were “like a thunderbolt in [his] heart” (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 308-309). He went as far as to say he hated these words.
He had been taught to understand “the righteousness of God” as referring to the vengeful God who punished unrighteous sinners. He explained it in this way: “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction [by the good works he had done]. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God” (LW, Vol. 34, pp. 336-337).
But as discouraged as he was by this text, he couldn’t leave it alone. He couldn’t shake the sense that he was missing something. The ideas didn’t seem to match up. On the one hand, Paul wrote about “the righteousness of God.” On the other hand, he cited a passage from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk about how “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had been taught and was convinced that no one could be righteous before God unless he did enough good works to please Him. But Paul was connecting righteousness to faith.
One day Luther was sitting in the tower at his monastery pondering the words before us today, when it suddenly dawned on him. He realized the problem was not with the text—the problem was with him! He said he now “began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God” (LW, Vol. 34, pp. 337). He learned that there was a difference between “the righteousness of the law” and “the righteousness of the gospel.”
The righteousness of the law is how God requires us to live according to the Ten Commandments. But the righteousness of the gospel is not about what we do at all. The righteousness of the gospel is all about what God gives to sinners according to His grace. What Luther learned in these two short verses is the proper distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 442-443). He didn’t come to this understanding on his own. He gave all glory to God. He said, “The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 194).
This is why I said that God the Holy Spirit brought about the Reformation. But there are many who disagree. They wish the Reformation had never happened. They view it as the work of the devil. They feel this way because the Reformation caused the church to break in pieces like it never had before. Besides dividing the Lutherans and Roman Catholics, the Reformation also led to the formation of other Christian denominations like the Anabaptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. (We’ll be studying these denominations in more detail in our next Bible Class.)
We, too, are sad that the church is so divided. But we thank God for the Reformation. Before the Reformation, the Gospel message of salvation had been obscured. Christians were not confident that their sins were forgiven because of what Jesus did. They were terrified of death because they thought they would be in purgatory a long, long time paying for their sins. This is why they jumped at the chance to buy indulgences authorized by the pope. They were told that as soon as they purchased an indulgence, they could send a loved one from purgatory to heaven and store up merit for themselves.
But an indulgence is not needed for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus is. He stated this clearly when He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16). We call this “the Gospel in a nutshell.” This is the good news—that God the Father sent His Son to take on our flesh to save us. Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law for us, and He carried all our sins to the cross to atone for them there. We are saved because of what He did and not because of anything we do. As soon as we believe this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have eternal life in Him.
This runs contrary to natural human thinking. We think that since we messed up, since we sinned, we have to fix it. We have to make up for our wrongs by doing lots of good. Even we who know this is not the case still beat ourselves up over past sins. We won’t let ourselves live in the grace of God. We won’t let ourselves rejoice in His wonderful love and goodness toward us. “I have sinned too much,” we think. “My faults are too many.”
Do you realize that is just another way of saying that Jesus is not much of a Savior? If your sins are too great, if your past is too horrible for God to forgive you, then He is a very limited God, and Jesus was wasting His time on the cross. Why was Jesus there if not for you? Why did He suffer if your sins could not be forgiven? Or was He there because your sins could be forgiven? And did He rise again from the dead because your sins are forgiven? This is why He suffered, died, and rose again: to blot out all of your sins with His precious blood and to win your eternal salvation.
You’re not alone in wondering if this message of the Gospel is too good to be true. Luther wondered this. So did the Apostle Paul. Paul admitted he was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of God. But, he said, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1Ti. 1:14-15).
Paul spread this Gospel message all over Europe. No matter how much he was ridiculed and attacked, he would not stop preaching the good news. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he wrote, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It is hard for us to understand how a message, a collection of certain words, could have the power to save. Our words do not have this power. But God’s words do.
In His Gospel, God reveals His righteousness. He shows us that what we could not accomplish, He accomplished for us. He tells us that we are no longer His enemies doomed to eternal destruction. Now we are His children destined for eternal life. Everything He required of us in His Law, He gives to us in His Gospel.
The Gospel message is able to do this for us because the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work through it. Just as He opened Luther’s mind and heart to understand and believe the good news of what Jesus had done, so He does the same for us. He works faith in our hearts through the Gospel, and He continues to strengthen our faith in the same way.
This faith, a gift from God, joins us to Jesus and everything He did to save us. This is why God the Father counts all who believe in His Son as righteous. We are righteous because Jesus was perfectly righteous. His righteousness covers over all our sinfulness. And because Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again, so we live in Him. Jesus Himself promised, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh. 11:26).
When the Holy Spirit led Luther to understand the truth about what God had done for him, he could not contain his joy: “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Luther now realized that his sins were all forgiven, not because of anything he had done, but by faith in his Savior. “And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God,’” he said. “Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise” (LW, Vol. 34, p. 337).
The Gospel of salvation through Jesus is our “gate to paradise” too. It is why we celebrate the Reformation. It is why we will not budge an inch from the Bible’s teaching for the sake of outward unity in the church. The Gospel is everything to us. If we lose the good news of what Jesus has done for us, we will go back to thinking salvation depends on ourselves. And then we are lost.
But as long as we have the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is at work cleansing, comforting, and strengthening us. He continues the work of reformation in our hearts just as in the church, so that we are pointed always to Jesus, our Savior.
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(picture from “Martin Luther at Worms” by Anton von Werner, 1877)