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.
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 “Parable of the Great Banquet” by the Brunswick Monogrammist, 16th century)
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:23-30
In Christ Jesus, who came into the world from the Father to win our salvation, and who continues to advocate for us at the Father’s right hand, dear fellow redeemed:
When a little child wants something, he charges right ahead with his request: “Mom, can I have a cookie?” And if Mom says “No,” he takes one of two approaches. He either whines and begs, desperately hoping he will get what he wants. Or he goes and makes the same request of Dad: “Dad, can I have a cookie?” And what does Dad say? “Go ask your Mom.”
But when a child gets older, the strategy improves. An older child has a better sense of when to ask for something, how to ask for something, and who to ask for something. You know how this works. You wait until your parents are in a good mood. You make your request politely, possibly making the case for why you should get what you want. Maybe you convince your sibling to make the request, thinking their odds are better than yours. You choose the parent who is more likely to say “Yes” than the other.
And if you get a hard “No” from one, you try to get the other to see the good reasons for your request. If you are fortunate, perhaps Mom will speak to Dad on your behalf and get him to reconsider. In that situation, you needed a mediator. Whether it was one of your parents or a sibling, you needed someone to go between you and the person with the authority.
For the salvation of our souls, we needed mediation between us and God. But there was no favorite sibling we could turn to on earth to patch things up with Him. We are all sinners. We are all equally guilty of disobeying His commands. The mediator had to be designated from God’s side, not from ours. Jesus is that Mediator. He is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. And He is also true Man, born of the virgin Mary.
What is interesting about Christ’s role as Mediator is that God wants reconciliation with us. It isn’t like the embittered couple looking out for his and her own interests in divorce court with a mediator trying to keep things peaceful. God wants to be one with us. He wants to be our merciful Father, and He wants us to be His children.
We could not make this peace with God. The idea that we can mend what is broken with God, that we can set our wrongs right, is at the heart of all false religion. Even thinking it is possible for us to fix things with God shows that we don’t realize how far we have fallen. We don’t realize how far apart we are from the holy God. God demands our perfection at all times, perfection in what we do, perfection in what we say, perfection in what we think. Jesus states it plainly, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat. 5:48).
But we can’t imagine this command is so hard and fast. Why would God demand what is impossible for us humans to accomplish? So we try to bring God down to our level. We say that because He loves us, He must be willing to overlook our imperfections. He must be happy to meet us where we are and to accommodate Himself to us. This is totally wrong. God is God! He doesn’t take orders from us. He doesn’t play by our rules. He is the all-powerful, all-holy God, the Maker of heaven and earth.
We cannot raise ourselves up to God or make Him come down to us. But He can do this. He can lower Himself to us and raise us up to Him. He accomplished both of these things by sending His only Son to become a man. The Son of God came in the flesh to be our Perfection—to keep the holy Law in every detail. He came to be our Redemption—to suffer and die for all of our wrongs. And He came to be our Reconciliation—to bring us eternally back together with God.
Jesus did all the work of our salvation. We do none of it. Our righteous standing before God is because of Him. The full forgiveness of our sins is because of Him. Our victory over death is because of Him. “All this is from God,” writes St. Paul, “who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2Co. 5:18-19).
Jesus was not forced into this or tricked into this. He did it all willingly. He wanted to obey His Father’s will even if it meant such suffering and torment. Jesus wanted all sinners to be saved. His sacrifice in our place is the reason God the Father looks upon us with favor. With Jesus as our Reconciler, our Mediator, nothing separates us from the grace and glory of God.
Our dear Father in heaven loves to attend to our needs. He loves to hear our prayers. We don’t have to worry about catching God on a good day or select only the best pray-ers to make our requests. Because of what Jesus has done for our salvation, each and every child of God can boldly and confidently bring their needs and concerns to Him. Jesus says, “Truly, truly—Amen, Amen—, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.”
But maybe you find it hard to ask. Maybe you don’t think you are very good at it. Others seem to pray so naturally, while you fumble around looking for the right words. God does not mind if your prayers lack polish. He doesn’t mind if you speak in fragments, or if your thoughts jump all over the place. He listens just as carefully whether you pray for ten minutes or ten seconds. He does not grow tired of your praying. He loves you.
Jesus says that “the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” You can be sure of the love of God the Father because you trust in the One He sent to save you. When you pray “in Jesus’ name,” you acknowledge that Jesus accomplished everything His Father sent Him to do for your salvation.
By the words, “in Jesus’ name,” you also confess that Jesus is still your Advocate at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He Is Your Tireless Mediator. Jesus prayed often during the time of His public work on earth. He prayed that God’s will be done even if it required His suffering. He prayed for His disciples that their faith would not fail. And He still prays for you.
Every time you pray “Our Father,” remember who taught you that prayer. The Lord Jesus taught it, and He prays it with you—“Our Father,” He said. In this way, Jesus sanctifies your prayers to the Father. Your prayers, though they come from your imperfect heart and mind and pass through an imperfect mouth, are perfectly presented to the Father in Jesus’ name. Like all of your imperfect works, your prayers are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and are therefore acceptable to your Father in heaven.
We don’t fully grasp the privilege of prayer. The God who rules over all things invites us poor sinners to speak to Him about anything. What’s more, He promises to hear those prayers and answer them. We don’t pray for sinful things that only have to do with our own selfish gain. We pray “in Jesus’ name,” in view of all that He did to save us. This means praying with humility, knowing that we deserve nothing good from God. And we pray with thankfulness, since our eternal life and joy have been secured for us by our Savior.
There is no good reason not to pray. We might use the excuse that we are too busy to pray, or that God is too busy to hear us. But neither of those things is true. Our opportunities for prayer are endless. We don’t have to wait until we are alone in the quiet, kneeling at our bedside. We can pray at any time and in any place. Jonah prayed from inside the slimy belly of a fish!
Christians who don’t pray are like beggars standing across the street from the soup kitchen waiting for food to be brought to them. Christians who don’t pray are like choir members who don’t sing. “Ask, and you will receive,” said Jesus, “that your joy may be full.” Even if we don’t receive exactly what we ask for on our timetable, we rejoice that God listens to us. He is for us, not against us. Jesus tirelessly presents our needs to the Father, and through the gifts of Jesus, our Father in heaven is constantly working all things for our good.
Some people pray to the saints and the angels. Some invoke dead relatives to come to their aid. We pray to the “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6). We pray “in Jesus’ name,” because He is our “advocate with the Father” (1Jo. 2:1). “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1Ti. 2:5-6).
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 “Jesus and the Little Child” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who is our strength and our song, since He has become our salvation (Psa. 118:14), dear fellow redeemed:
The festival times of the year are when tradition seems especially important. So at Christmas, you always put up certain decorations in your home and prepare special foods. Maybe the same goes for Easter with its unique decorations, foods, and activities. At church, you expect certain readings to be read on these days, and you look forward to singing certain hymns. Christmas Eve might not seem the same without “Silent Night” or Christmas Day without “Joy to the World.” On Easter, it might be “Like the Golden Sun Ascending” or “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
The Jewish people had their own traditions for the major Old Testament festivals. Probably the most important festival was the Passover. This festival recounted the LORD’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover in Egypt, each Israelite household selected a lamb without any blemish, roasted its meat over the fire, and ate it being careful not to break any bones. Then they painted the lamb’s blood on the doorposts, so that the angel of God passed over that house and spared the lives of everyone inside.
The Israelites were to celebrate this deliverance every year. After the temple was built, they traveled to Jerusalem annually for the Passover Feast. We know that Jesus’ parents did this and brought Him along with them (Luk. 2:41). The Israelites were accustomed to singing certain songs at the Passover like we do at our festivals, and we know what they sang. We still have the hymnbook they used, because it is part of the Holy Scriptures. The Israelites sang from the Book of Psalms.
There were six Psalms in particular which were used for the Passover. Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal, and Psalms 115-118 were sung after the meal (called the “Passover Hallel” or the “Egyptian Hallel”). The festival would not have been the same without these Psalms, and most of the people knew them by heart.
The timing of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem was not random. He came to the city riding on a donkey at the beginning of Passover week. He came as the city was filling up with people who were arriving for the festival. The evangelist John said it was a large crowd that greeted Jesus. They were drawn to Him by more than just curiosity. They came because they had heard that He raised Lazarus from the dead (Luk. 12:18).
You can imagine the electricity in the crowd. Here was the Man whom many of the religious leaders hated, but whose power could not be denied. No one had done miracles like He did. No one taught like He did. Could this be the Messiah? Could this be the long-awaited heir to David’s throne? Could He be the beginning of a new “exodus,” a new freedom from oppression by the Romans?
As they pressed forward to get a glimpse of Jesus and laid their cloaks and palm branches on the road in front of Him, they did something interesting. They starting singing—or at least shouting—the words of their Passover song. They chose the words from the last part of the song, from Psalm 118, which describes the coming of the Messiah. Here is some context from the Psalm for their Palm Sunday “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He,” starting with verse 19:
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. (Psa. 118, NKJV)
This was the source of the people’s Palm Sunday song. The word “Hosanna” is brought into English as “Save now, I pray”—“Save now, I pray, O LORD”—“Hosanna, O LORD!” It was quite a song and quite a connection for the people to make, whether by coincidence or by divine guidance.
The chief priests and scribes were not happy with the song of the crowd. “Do you hear what these are saying?” they demanded (Mat. 21:16). “Can’t You hear how they are referring to You, Jesus? Don’t You see that they think You are the Messiah? Tell them to be silent!” (Luke 19:39). But Jesus would not silence them. The people spoke the truth. He was the Messiah, and He had come to save.
But as clearly as the people sang the song of salvation on Palm Sunday, it seems that their initial excitement faded. Maybe their hopes for Jesus were more about social or political progress. But He was entirely focused on the spiritual. Soon Jesus would stand before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and declare, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Joh. 18:36).
So while the people were still excited about Jesus, they weren’t sure what good He would do for them. They weren’t sure if His arrival would change their lives in any meaningful way. And by the end of the week, He had been crucified, died, and was buried. Did they feel foolish for their Palm Sunday excitement? Had they chosen the wrong song?
It is true for us also that the songs of Christmas and Easter come easily to our lips on those festival days. The reason why Jesus came and what He accomplished seem very clear. But we are unable to keep that festival excitement. The next Sunday doesn’t feel the same or the Sunday after that. We are unsure how Jesus’ work applies to our work as we clock in and out each day.
So what can happen is a sort of separation, a compartmentalization, between what we believe and what we do, between what happens on Sunday and what happens the rest of the week. We see this in the way people can hold two very different beliefs at the same time. A person might accept the six-day creation at church and the theory of evolution at school. One might accept traditional values about marriage and family at church but support the opposite in society. Another might watch his language around fellow congregation members but let it all fly among his co-workers.
There are different reasons for these inconsistencies. Some of it is fear that others will judge us if come off as “too religious.” We want to fit in with others and not stand out. If we did take a stand, we might be uncomfortable trying to defend our beliefs. While it may seem easier for some to speak about Jesus, I’m not sure it is ever easy. What a person believes touches on the deepest parts of who they are. We want our friends to know that Jesus is their Savior, but we also don’t want to risk losing them as friends.
At its root, our reluctance to share the Gospel message with others comes from our own weakness. And that is something to both recognize and repent of. What Jesus has done is just as meaningful and life-changing today as any other day. But we treat it as something common. Or we become frustrated because Jesus doesn’t seem concerned about the problems in our life and in the world that need fixing.
Like the Palm Sunday crowd found out, Jesus does not give us everything we want. But He does give us everything we need. He did not come to work political or social change. He came to win our freedom from sin, death, and devil. And He accomplished it through sacrifice, the sacrifice of His own holy body on the cross. The people thought their Palm Sunday song had been wasted when Jesus was killed. But actually their song had been answered.
The song of the Passover was fulfilled by “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1:29). Jesus truly was the world’s Messiah, King, and Savior. He is your Savior too. He died to erase all of your sins—the times when your confession of the truth went cold because you were ashamed, the times when the song of salvation was silenced in your heart because you were angry at God, the times when you cared more about the riches and joys of this life instead of the life to come.
Jesus forgives the sins of your yesterdays, your sins of today, and the sins you will commit in the future. He suffered and died for all of them. You may not always think of Him in your day-to-day life, but He is always thinking of you. He wants you to be comforted by His Word of grace and forgiveness whenever you feel guilt and sorrow for your sins. He wants you to be strengthened by His promises whenever you are filled with doubts and faced with difficulties. He wants the song of salvation to play over and over again in your heart and mind, because He came to save you.
What Jesus has done may not shine as brightly or loom as large as it will this Holy Week and on Easter. We may not retain the festival excitement, but we will still have the festival song. Week by week and even day by day, We Sing the Song of Salvation. We hear again and again the beautiful words of Jesus’ coming to redeem us. He was willing to die for you and me—even for us weak sinners! And that means He will not abandon us in our weakness.
He still comes to us through His Word and His Sacraments to deliver His forgiveness and life. And we welcome Him here with singing and rejoicing just as the people welcomed Him to Jerusalem: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
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 Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, who promises to show mercy and grace to all who ask, seek, and knock in His name (Mat. 7:7), dear fellow redeemed:
What do you value more: someone who is a good listener, or someone who is a good talker? Good talkers have their place, but we especially appreciate good listeners. It is important to us that we are heard. We all have needs that we want others to know about. We all have opinions. We all have advice or encouragement to share with those we care about. If no one listens to us anymore, that’s when we feel very alone.
I imagine the Canaanite woman in today’s text felt very alone. Her daughter was “severely oppressed by a demon.” We don’t know what the demon did to this girl. In a different case recorded in the Bible, a demon possessing a boy tried to get him to throw himself into fire or water to destroy him (Mar. 9:22). Whatever the demon did to this little girl, it was a torment not only to her but to her mother also.
What could the mother do? She would do anything to make her daughter better. At first her neighbors sympathized with her. Maybe some doctors or spiritualists tried to help. But when the girl could not be cured, they grew tired of listening to her mother. “All she does is complain! What are we supposed to do? She’s driving us crazy!” So they stopped listening. They avoided her. The serious problem had not gone away, but now there was no one to offer comfort or help.
Perhaps you have felt like this woman before. Something was troubling you greatly, but either you didn’t feel like you could share it with others, or when you tried to share it you were ignored. So you carried it by yourself, and the weight only became bigger and heavier. Or maybe you have been on the other side of things, and as much as you wanted to help someone, you couldn’t make their problems go away. Their constant worrying and complaining overwhelmed you to the point that you decided to put some distance between yourself and that person.
Probably you have been in both of these camps—you have felt alone with no one seeming to understand or care, and you have avoided someone because you felt incapable of helping anymore. On the one hand, you learned that you don’t have perfect friends, and on the other, you realized that you are not a perfect friend.
But while her friends and neighbors may have closed their ears to this woman, her ears were not closed. At some point, word traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon about a Jewish man who could heal. Tyre and Sidon were coastal cities on the Mediterranean Sea about 45 miles north of Nazareth where Jesus was raised. These coastal cities were beyond the borders of Jewish territory. So they were inhabited by Gentiles, people who did not have formal training in the Scriptures but who were undoubtedly aware of the laws and customs of the Jewish people.
Not only did word reach the Canaanite woman about a Jewish man who could heal, but she also heard some say that this man was the Messiah, the heir to King David’s throne, the long-promised Savior. This is how she referred to Jesus when she located Him. She came to Him crying out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
But Jesus had come to this place near Tyre and Sidon to rest. He had recently fed the crowd of 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fish. He had been clashing with the Pharisees and scribes. And now He “withdrew” to Gentile territory. He and His disciples needed time away. The evangelist Mark tells us that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (7:24). But then here comes this hysterical Canaanite woman begging Him to heal her daughter.
Jesus acted like He couldn’t hear her. “He did not answer her a word.” That could have been enough for the woman. When her cries went unanswered, she might have had some harsh words for Jesus about not being anything like the man she had heard about. She could have stomped off in disgust. But she persisted. The disciples heard her loud and clear. Her cries were so incessant that they now begged Jesus: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
Why wouldn’t Jesus listen to her and help her? He told His disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He said the same thing to the woman: “It is not right to take the children’s bread—the saving Gospel for the Jews—and throw it to the dogs—the Gentile peoples.” The woman was listening; she was listening very carefully. The “dog” comment might have turned many people away. But the woman replied, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Jesus commended her not only for her dogged determination to be heard, but also because her faith had a foundation. It was not a faith-of-the-moment, or a faith of convenience if it could possibly help her daughter. Her faith was worked in her by God through His Word. She believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and she believed that if He had come to save the Jews, then He was able to save the Gentiles too. If God had “bread” for the Jews, surely He had some crumbs for the believing Gentiles.
This woman understood something that would not become clear to Jesus’ disciples until after Pentecost, that Jesus was the Savior not just of the Jews but of the whole world. The disciples’ ignorance explains why they showed no compassion toward this woman. To them she was no more than an annoying Canaanite. Not long before this, Jesus had chided “rock-solid” Peter, whose doubts caused him to sink like a stone in the water: “O you of little faith,” said Jesus, “why did you doubt?” (Mat. 14:31). But this Canaanite woman did not doubt, even when it seemed like Jesus wanted nothing to do with her. And Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Jesus was listening to the woman’s cries all along, but He wanted to test her. Or maybe He was testing His disciples to see how they would respond to someone in need, even someone they would rather not be around. Jesus answered her cry for mercy because He is merciful—full of mercy. Mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve. He withholds judgment and punishment, not because we have earned it, not because we are somehow worthy, but because He is good and kind and compassionate.
The very fact that God’s Son was walking as a man among us shows us this. He did not come to bring down the wrath of God on a sinful world. He came to bring salvation. He came to offer up Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all sin. He came to suffer and be nailed to a cross and have the Father ignore His cries for mercy, so that justice would be done. Sin had to be paid for, and Jesus paid the penalty with His holy blood.
His death in our place proves that God is merciful toward us, and that He will hear our anguished cries. One of our hymns expresses this beautifully: “Jesus, in Thy cross are centered / All the marvels of Thy grace; / Thou, my Savior, once hast entered / Through Thy blood the holy place: / Thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption, / From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption; / The way is now free to the Father’s high throne, / Where I may approach Him, in Thy name alone” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #182, v. 8).
Jesus’ death in our place means that God the Father hears our prayers and cries even when it seems like He doesn’t. Often we become discouraged about prayer. We might think that God knows what we need anyway, so why bother praying. Or we might be disappointed that God did not give us something we wanted, so we gave up asking for anything. But our reluctance to pray, our doubts, and our impatience are problems with us, not God.
He invites and urges us to bring our requests and troubles to Him, whether they are large or small. He promises to hear them, every single one. And He promises to answer them, always in the way that is the best for us, even if we cannot see the good at the time. He wants us to pray like the Canaanite woman, trusting His Word, never giving up, coming to Him again and again even when it seems like His ears are closed.
His ears are not closed. They are wide open. They hear you, every cry, every question, every whimper, every whisper. Maybe no one else is listening, maybe no one else understands. But God hears. He understands. There is no anguish or pain you feel that Jesus did not feel. He can sympathize with you because He suffered all things in His time on earth. He endured this suffering out of love for you. He suffered to save you, to bring you into communion with Him and to prepare you for the eternal glories to come.
He wants you to cry out in His name for all your needs, to leave your deepest concerns and struggles with Him. Pray for your own health and strength. Pray for your children like the Canaanite woman did. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your neighbors. Pray boldly and persistently knowing that The Merciful Lord Hears You. He wants you to pray. He wants you to draw near to His throne of grace with confidence, where He promises that you will find “mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
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(picture from 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
Septuagesima Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 20:1-16
In Christ Jesus, who called us by His grace, so that we should bear fruit in His name (Joh. 15), dear fellow redeemed:
We can understand the bitterness of the workers who worked all day in the hot sun for a denarius. They weren’t especially bitter about the amount of payment. They had agreed to work for this amount, and it was a fair wage. What made them upset was that the workers who worked for only one hour received the same amount. Who wouldn’t be upset about that? What made it even worse was that the owner of the vineyard paid the last workers first. It’s like he wanted to rub it in the faces of those who had worked all day.
This made them feel like their hard work was unappreciated, like their good efforts had been wasted. Have you ever felt this way? I think we all have. You did the hard work, and someone else got the credit. You consistently went above and beyond but were treated no different than your lazy co-workers. You have been walked over, pushed aside, and passed by more times than you can count. What has that done to your morale? Has it caused you to give less than your best? After all, what’s the point of giving everything you’ve got when you will be treated just like everyone else?
This is what the brother of the prodigal son was thinking. His younger brother had insulted their father, taken his inheritance, and squandered everything in reckless living (Luk. 15:13). Now he had returned home, and his father was throwing a big party! The older son was angry and said to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (vv. 29-30).
It doesn’t seem right. It isn’t fair. But it is a picture of grace. Grace is undeserved love. It is showing kindness, compassion, and generosity when those things are not warranted. Like the brother of the prodigal son, it is hard for us to be gracious. We like to focus more on justice than on grace. We have a clear opinion about what we deserve, and we also have a strong sense about what others deserve.
Like He does in the parable for today, Jesus challenges that thinking. He wants us to take a closer look at our preference for justice over grace. The workers who had spent all day in the vineyard wanted justice: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!” “You’re treating us the same,” they said. “But we are clearly not the same.”
It isn’t really that the vineyard owner was against justice. He said to one of the grumblers: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” He had kept his promise. He had not cheated those workers in any way. But he also wanted to be gracious to those who had worked only a little: “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
So this really wasn’t about justice. This was about jealousy. The full-day workers couldn’t bear the thought that others should receive the same payment who had not endured what they had. “There are blisters on my hands! My back hurts! My skin is burned! And those guys are just going to skip in here and get rewarded for nothing!”
The full-day workers did not have to be resentful. They could have simply been thankful for what they received. They could have even been happy for those late-coming workers, who for whatever reason weren’t present when the vineyard owner first came.
The same goes for you and me. It is a common temptation from the devil to make us resentful and jealous toward others. “If only I had the job he has and lived in a house like theirs.” “If only I had the marriage she did and the family they enjoy.” “If only I were healthier like they are.” “If only I hadn’t experienced so many losses and still had the encouragement and support of parents and grandparents like they do.”
But the grass is never as green as it appears on the other side of the fence. We often don’t see or know about the struggles and pains that others have. Their life is not really as care-free as it appears. Or if they do have fewer cares, the ones they have may feel like the heaviest burdens. It is no good for us to be jealous of the life that others have. God did not give you that life. He gave you the one you have.
But is it a good life? In some ways that is a hard question to answer. We can safely say that the life we live in America is already better than the circumstances of many around the world. We have plenty of food to eat. We have homes to live in. We have the freedom to make our opinions known and to worship as we please. Many people can’t take those things for granted. We can, and we do.
So despite our blessings, we can always point out things that are not good about our life, things that bother us, that drag us down. If I were to ask each of you today, and if I asked myself, “Are you happy?” we might all hesitate before we answered. This life is not perfect. We can always think of something that isn’t right. And it will be that way until our dying day.
But we must not let the difficult little details keep us from seeing the beautiful big picture. Instead of focusing on the good things that others seem to have, instead of focusing on how hard our work is, it is important to remember how we got here in the first place. We do not own this world, and we did not establish the Church. We were called to life through the miracle of conception, and we were called into the Holy Christian Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. We were born by the power of God, and we were born again by His power.
The workers in the vineyard would have ended the day with no money at all if the vineyard owner had not come looking for them. And see how eager he was to find workers! He went out again at the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and even the eleventh hour! No employer would bring in a worker who would be there for only one hour. It would probably take that long just to get him situated.
This is how much our Lord cares and how diligently He seeks sinners for salvation. When He called Matthew the tax collector to follow Him, the Pharisees and scribes grumbled that Jesus and His disciples were eating with such people. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:32). Later He visited another tax collector, Zacchaeus, and there was more grumbling. And Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luk. 19:10).
Jesus came to save sinners. That should be supremely comforting to you, because you are one. Jesus came to redeem you from your sins of bitterness and jealousy when you do not get what you think you deserve, or when others receive more than you think they should. He came to forgive you for the times you have been angry with God, when you felt He did not treat you like He should have.
Jesus died for all your sins because He is gracious. He gives you what you do not deserve. You don’t deserve to set foot in His vineyard. You don’t deserve to wear His name which He put on you at your Baptism. You don’t deserve to eat and drink His body and blood in the Holy Supper. But the Lord has called you to have all of this.
By nature we were standing idle in the marketplace, living the life that suits us, piling up wrong after wrong. But “the Holy Ghost has called [us] by the Gospel” (Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed). By the power of His Word of grace, He called us away from our idleness, away from our self-centeredness, away from our futility. He called us to find life in Him and goodness and strength and purpose. He called us to meaningful and blessed work that is carried out in our vocations—our callings in our homes, our communities, and our congregation.
All of this is by grace. None of us deserves it. Jesus has chosen us to “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Explanation to the Second Article). This is how much He loves us. He chose you, and He chose me. That’s all that matters.
We do not “begrudge [His] generosity” toward others no matter what hour they are called to the vineyard or what blessings they receive. We know we haven’t deserved any of this ourselves. Jesus Chose Us by His Grace, and He promises to reward us by His grace with eternal life in heaven. So we give thanks to Him, and we glorify His name.
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(picture from 11th century Byzantine manuscript of laborers working in the vineyard [lower portion] and receiving their denarius [upper portion])
The Infancy of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Luke 2:21 – Circumcision/Naming of Jesus (8 days from birth)
Prayer: O Lord God, for our sakes You made Your blessed Son, our Savior, subject to the law and caused Him to endure the circumcision of the flesh: Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit, that our hearts may be pure from all sinful desires and lusts; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #158 – “The Ancient Law Departs”
St. Luke 2:22-38 – Presentation in Temple (40 days from birth)
Prayer: O God our heavenly Father, You have shown Your love toward us by sending Your only-begotten Son into the world, that all might have life through Him: We pray that You would speed forth these good tidings of great joy to every nation, that the people who sit in darkness may see the great Light and may come to worship Him who is called Wonderful, even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn #151.1-4 – “Thou Light of Gentile Nations”
St. Matthew 2:1-12 – Wise Men Visit (about a year from birth)
Prayer: O God, by the leading of a star You manifested Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant that we, who know You now by faith, may after this life enjoy the fullness of Your glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #120.1-4 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
St. Matthew 2:13-23 – Move to Egypt and Nazareth (first years of Jesus’ life)
Prayer: O Lord God, heavenly Father, You allowed Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, to become a stranger and a sojourner in Egypt for our sakes, and led Him safely home to His fatherland: Mercifully grant that we poor sinners, who are strangers and sojourners in this perilous world, may soon be called home to our true fatherland, the kingdom of heaven, where we shall live in eternal joy and glory; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #173.1-2, 5 – “The Star Proclaims the King Is Here”
In Christ Jesus, who “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phi. 2:7) in order to be our Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
When we hear about the infancy and early childhood of Jesus, there is nothing impressive about the way He is described. His skin did not glow with an inner light, and His face did not shine like the sun. Any of the local people who saw Him in Mary’s arms would have concluded that He was just another little boy.
This is such a great mystery. Because the Boy in Mary’s arms was the eternal Son of God! “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Joh. 1:3). He was Mary’s God who gave her life, and yet now she had given birth to Him, the Christ-Child. He was willing to be fed by her and be rocked to sleep. She changed His diapers and kept Him from wandering off when He started using His toddler legs.
During His early years, Jesus doesn’t look like much of a Savior. In today’s readings, the emphasis is on what was done for Him. Jesus appears totally helpless, totally passive. Eight days from His birth, His skin was cut at His circumcision and He bled. Forty days from His birth, Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple where Simeon took the Baby into his arms. Within the next year or so, the wise men knelt before Jesus and gave Him gifts. And then Joseph had to rush his family away from Bethlehem to escape the jealous rage of Herod.
But while Jesus appeared to be passive in all these events, He was fully engaged in them. All these things were happening according to the will of God the Father, and His Son was in perfect obedience to His will. Jesus was circumcised so that He would be bound to keep the Law of God to the smallest detail. He was presented in the temple to show that He was set apart for the Lord’s work. He drew the wise men by a star to Bethlehem to prove that He had come not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He traveled to Egypt and then back to Nazareth in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Hos. 11:1, Isa. 11:1).
Everything in His early years had a purpose. All of it was focused on the salvation of sinners, even though His ultimate sacrifice on the cross would not come for some thirty years. He came in total humility, not making full use of His divine powers. This is why the knife cut into His flesh at His circumcision. This is why He remained silent while Simeon and Anna identified Him as the Messiah. This is why He did not show His glory to the wise men. This is why He relied on Joseph to lead the family to safety.
God’s Son humbled Himself, so we would be exalted. As the apostle Paul wrote: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Jesus put Himself under the Law to redeem us, to buy us back from eternal death. We have all sinned against the Law of God, breaking it in every way, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
But because Jesus kept the Law perfectly for us, we are now counted as righteous before God. If Jesus had only been a perfect Man, His keeping of the Law could only count for Him. But He is also true God. That means when He kept the Law perfectly as a Man, it counted for all men. And we have received adoption as sons of God, because our Brother Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sin. He endured His Father’s righteous wrath in our place.
That little Baby may not have looked like our Savior, but He was. Because of His perfect life and death for us, we know we enter this New Year with God’s favor. Jesus’ holy blood cleanses us from every sin, and His perfect righteousness covers us, so that no spot or blemish can be seen on us anymore. So with the hymnwriter we give thanks to Him and pray:
I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store
Righteous robes receiving.
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee. Amen.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #115, v. 14)
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(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)
The Holy Nativity of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:15-20
The darkness of winter weighs on us. It can seem like the long, warm days of summer will never return. We can experience a similar darkness in our spirit. We feel like each day brings more bad news. Nothing seems to come easy or work out right. We grieve the loss of better times. A dark cloud hangs over us. We can’t imagine feeling happy and joyful again.
Sometimes this darkness is due to wrongs we have done that we are unable to fix. We sinned against someone or against our own conscience, and the memory sticks with us as though it happened yesterday. Or we carry wounds from the sins others have committed against us, and the hurt still cuts deep.
This darkness around us and in us is the reason God sent His Son to take on our flesh. More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah described the effect His coming would have: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2). About 400 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Malachi referred to Him as “the sun of righteousness [who] shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal. 4:2).
Jesus is “the light of the world” who came to bring “the light of life” to us who were lost in the darkness of sin and death (Joh. 8:12). He came to shine His healing light into our world of pain and sadness and to send His bright beams of grace into hearts full of turmoil and despair. His coming ushered in a glorious new day of hope and salvation for us that the darkness cannot overcome (Joh. 1:5).
Living in this light, we now rise and sing our festival hymn, “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn!” (#142):
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn!
A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem
The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
God’s great favor;
Bless Him ever
Give Him praise and adoration!
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Sermon text: St. Luke 2:15-20
In Christ Jesus, the Son of God, whose coming in the flesh as a little Baby is the most monumental event in human history, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s natural to feel a bit of a letdown after Christmas. There was so much to do leading up to it: decorating the house, buying and wrapping presents, mailing cards, baking the favorite treats. Then suddenly, Christmas has passed by. The brightly wrapped presents under the tree have all been opened. The beautiful plates of cookies have turned into extra insulation around the waist. The decorations are put away. And the warmth and anticipation of the Christmas season gives way to the harsh cold of winter.
But the days after Christmas do not have to be a letdown. I don’t think it was for the people who played a part in the story of Jesus’ birth. Take the shepherds. They didn’t see Christmas coming. All of a sudden, an angel appears to them at night telling them the “good tidings of great joy” that the Savior, “Christ the Lord,” had been born in Bethlehem. The angel tells them to go to town and look for a Baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And if that wasn’t stunning enough, then the sky fills with a vast number of angels singing praises to God.
Imagine the wide eyes and open mouths of those shepherds. As soon as the angels disappeared, they must have given each other the look of: “Did that just happen!?!” And then, bubbling with excitement, they all talked at the same time, stumbling over their words, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” “The Savior is here!” “The Lord has told us!” They took off as fast as they could.
Now we might have the idea that there was just one little stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and the shepherds went right there. But scholars suggest that it would have been common for the people of the day to have livestock in rooms or sheds adjoining their homes. The excited shepherds could have knocked on any number of doors in their search for the Baby Jesus.
How do you suppose those conversations went? Knock, knock. The owner of the house answers sleepily or with apprehension: “Yes?” Then the panting shepherds: “Is there a baby here!” | “Do you know what hour of the night it is?” | “Please! Is there a baby here? The Savior, the Christ, has been born!” Or maybe the stable entrances were obvious and the shepherds peaked through doors and windows looking for the sign the angel gave them.
They continued their excited search until they finally found Mary, Joseph, and the little Lord Jesus. There He was, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The shepherds knew they were not worthy to lay eyes on the Christ-Child. Here was the fulfillment of God’s promise. Even in this humble setting, they stood on holy ground. Joseph and Mary must have been surprised by these unexpected visitors. They were even more surprised when the shepherds told them what they had seen and heard out in the fields.
After looking upon their Savior, the shepherds couldn’t keep their excitement to themselves. Maybe they even stopped by the same houses they had been at before. Knock, knock. “Not those crazy shepherds again!” They would not be silent. They told everyone what they had experienced. They returned to their work, “glorifying and praising God” for all He had so graciously revealed to them.
And that is the last we hear about these shepherds. They figure so prominently in the revealing of Christ’s birth, and then they disappear from the biblical account. What do you suppose the day after Christmas was like for them? We can assume it wasn’t just another day on the job. They didn’t put away the vision of the angels and the visit to the manger like we might put away our ornaments and nativities. Christmas had changed them. Nothing would—or could—be the same for them again.
They must have kept turning over every detail in their minds. They talked with one another about what this all means. If they were not students of the Scriptures before this, I suspect they became dedicated ones now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they returned to visit the Baby Jesus and watched Him grow. Might they have brought their best wool for His baby bed? And they kept telling the people they met about this good news.
I’m sure there were at least some who despised them. They grew tired of the angel stories and the talk of a special Baby in a manger. Why would God give these dirty shepherds such a privilege? They told the shepherds to keep it to themselves and stop pedaling their dreams and hallucinations. “You just worry about your sheep, and leave us alone!” But how could the shepherds stay silent? They were telling the truth! How could they not share these “good tidings of great joy,” which were meant for “all people”?
Whether or not the shepherds faced exactly this opposition, you and I certainly do. God has had mercy on us and revealed to us the salvation Jesus won for us. The Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in Him through the powerful Gospel and assures us that all who trust in Jesus will have eternal life. There is nothing better we could give to the people around us. There is nothing they need more than this.
And yet, we are sometimes reluctant to share the glorious hope we have. We doubt our ability to explain the Gospel truth. We worry what our friends and acquaintances will think of us if we talk about Jesus. What if they make fun of us? What if they accuse us of trying to force our religious beliefs on them? What if they threaten to harm us if we keep speaking up? We don’t want to stand out; we want to fit in.
But the truth is the truth, whether it is welcome or not. As the apostles Peter and John said to the angry Jewish council: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Act. 4:19-20). It really all boils down to the question of whether God took on our flesh to save us or not. If He did—if what the Bible tells us about Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection is true—then we cannot keep this good news to ourselves. Then we cannot act like these things have not happened.
We can take our cue from the shepherds. The day after Christmas was no letdown for them. It was more than the dawn of a new day. It was the dawn of a new era, the era of God’s forgiveness, grace, and salvation, and the beginning of the countdown to the final day of redemption. We can also learn something from Mary. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” We don’t move past Christmas, not even in a few weeks or a month. We keep Christmas with us by pondering it in our hearts.
We ponder the depths of God the Father’s love for us, that He would send His Son to be our Substitute and Savior. We ponder our Lord’s great humility, that He would lower Himself to become our Servant so that He might lift us up to glory. We ponder the wondrous exchange, that Jesus took on our sin in order to give us His righteousness. We ponder the compassion and mercy the Lord still has for us in visiting us in every trouble, pain, and sadness.
Jesus was born to save us. He was born to give us rebirth and new life. The shepherds praised God for this Savior, and so do we. Christmas Day may come and go each year. But God’s love for us and the salvation Jesus has won is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
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(picture from “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Galatians 3:15-22
In Christ Jesus, in whom “all the promises of God find their Yes” (2Co. 1:20), dear fellow redeemed:
It is election season in our country, which means it is a time when politicians make a lot of promises. Some of those promises are within their power to carry out if they are elected. Other promises they only hope they can keep. Still other promises are made to score political points, but there is really no follow through to fulfill them. A politician makes these promises to secure votes. In other words, he is willing to give something in order to get something in return.
That doesn’t sound very impressive, but a lot of our promises are like that. We promise to give our best on the field or court or in the classroom, and we expect our good effort to be recognized. We promise to work hard for an employer, and we expect to be treated well in return. We promise to be faithful to our spouse, and we expect their faithfulness to us. When we know our promises will be rewarded, it is easier for us to keep them.
It is much harder to keep our promises when the person we have made a promise to proves unworthy of it. Then we might try to go back and adjust our promise. “What I really meant was that I promise to do this or that if you meet my conditions, or as long as I am happy with you.” Experiencing betrayals and hurts might also cause us to adjust our promises on the front end. This has happened with marriage vows in certain places where “as long as we both shall live” has been changed to “as long as we still love each other.” But a conditional promise is really no promise at all.
A true promise is difficult business. A true promise puts us in another person’s debt. It commits us to serve them in some way, and service always requires sacrifice. Making a promise conditional or making no promises at all is much “safer,” so to speak. But that is not the way we have been taught by God. That is the way of selfishness, not the way of love.
Our gracious and merciful Lord does not make conditional promises. He does exactly what He says He will do. The promise that Paul writes about in today’s Epistle is the promise God made to Abraham after Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:15-18). But although it included a formal covenant, it wasn’t really a new promise. At its core, it pointed to an old promise, the promise of salvation for sinners. God first made this promise to Adam and Eve after they fell into sin.
When you read the account of the fall in Genesis chapter 3, you might expect to find Adam and Eve asking God what they could do to get right with Him again. Or you might expect God to give them some incentive to be better and prove themselves to Him. Neither of those things happens. First He makes the promise that the Seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head (3:15). Then He outlines the consequences that man and woman will face because of their sins (vv. 16-19). No impression is given that the fulfillment of God’s promise to save is dependent on how well Adam and Eve carried out their callings in a sinful world.
The same goes for Abraham. The LORD called Abraham away from the idol worship of his father’s house. Abraham in no way deserved God’s favor, but the LORD chose him as an ancestor of the promised Messiah and gave him faith to believe the promise (Gen. 15:6). Even Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command did not cause God to keep His promise.
If God’s promise to send a Savior depended on the world’s worthiness to receive this gift, no Savior would have ever come. The LORD did not negotiate terms for sending a Savior like Abraham did for saving Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asked God to spare those wicked cities if only fifty righteous people were found there and then forty-five righteous ones and then thirty and then twenty and then ten (Gen. 18:22-33).
If the LORD had said He would save the world as long as fifty percent were righteous or even ten percent of the population, we would have no Savior. By nature, “None [of us] is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The LORD’s promise was not conditional like this. His promise did not depend on our character and our actions. It depended entirely on His holy will and His immeasurable love for us sinners.
This is why He kept His promise even though so many had despised His promise and so few were looking for its fulfillment. “[W]hen the fullness of time had come—when the time had come to fulfill the promise—, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4). God the Father sent His Son to be born into the world of men, to be subject to the holy Law, to endure terrible injustice, suffering, and pain, and to die at the hands of sinners.
If anyone had the right to change a promise because the recipients of the promise were obviously unworthy, it is God. But God did not change His promise. He kept it. He sent His only-begotten Son to die alone for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died for everyone, even for those who hate Him and His Word, for those who bow down at the altars of worldly power and pleasure and riches, for the murderers, abusers, thieves, liars, and cheats. He died for all people past, present, and future who sin. That means He died for you and me.
Besides rejecting the salvation He won, the worst thing we can do is act like we contribute toward our salvation. Many people fall into this error, including many Christians. They say things like this: “Jesus did His part, and now I have to do mine.” Or, “Jesus died for my sins, and now I have to prove I am worthy of His sacrifice.” Or comfortless statements like these, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Jesus did not fulfill the Law and die for your sins just to have the Law placed on your shoulders again. Keeping the Law does not complete your salvation or give you another way to obtain salvation. This is St. Paul’s emphasis in today’s text. He said that God gave the promise of salvation to Abraham 430 years before He gave the Law through Moses. The giving of the Law did not annul God’s covenant of grace. It did not make the promise of salvation through faith void. Paul wrote that “if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
You know this. You know you are saved by grace and not by works. You know that your inheritance of heaven comes by God’s promise alone. But the devil and your own flesh want to tempt you away from this certainty and get you to focus on the things you do or don’t do. So you might watch the news and think you are better than the rioters and looters. You would never behave like that! You follow the rules. You lend a helping hand. You prove every day how much more kind and loving you are than others.
Do you see the problem? Thinking so much about your own good deeds plants you in the ground of the Law. The only fruit you can bear there is self-righteousness and pride or else despair. But looking to your Savior in humility and faith plants you firmly in His promise. God did not give the Law so you could compare your righteousness with others. He gave the Law “because of transgressions,” as Paul writes. He gave the Law to humble you, to show you how far you have fallen short.
And He gave His promise to save you, to show you how deep His love is for you. No matter how often you have messed up, no matter what terrible words you have said or thoughts you have imagined toward others, God’s promise of your forgiveness has not changed. He does not say that the shed blood of Jesus takes away only minor infractions, or only benefits the people who show they are worthy. He says that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jo. 1:7).
You may feel like the most wretched sinner the world has ever known. You might hardly hope for peace with God because of your many sins. You may carry the burden of a million failures. But God says, “As surely as My holy Son died on the cross and rose again, your sins are forgiven. Your record is completely clean. Salvation is yours.”
God kept His promise to send a Savior, which means there is nothing you have to do to be saved. But what about the example of the Good Samaritan? Isn’t Jesus teaching us that we have to be kind and merciful toward those around us? He is. He is teaching us about love, which is the summary of His Law. But He is not teaching that salvation is earned by our love toward others.
Salvation was earned by His love. He is our Good Samaritan who saved us from our sin and death. Our love for Him and others comes as a response to His love, as a living sacrifice of thankfulness for what He has done. “We love because he first loved us” (1Jo. 4:19). As soon as we try to add our love to the equation of our salvation, then salvation becomes uncertain, because we do not love as God commands us to do. Paul writes: “For 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.”
God has not changed His mind about you or the rest of the sinners of the world. He has not voided the work His Son did to save you. He gives no conditions to meet if you would enter into His favor. God’s Promise Stands on His faithfulness alone. That means your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation are completely secure in Him.
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(picture of Abraham viewing the stars from 1919 Bible primer book published by Augustana Book Concern)
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-20
In Christ Jesus, who walks with us in our suffering and comforts us with grace and peace for the present and the promise of a perfect life after this one, dear fellow redeemed:
A month and a half ago, our state officials prohibited gatherings of more than ten people, so we stopped holding regular services. Since that time, you and I have been worshipping in our homes, and we have done what we could to stay connected through the internet, phone calls, and mail. Now our state officials have lifted restrictions in our county while still urging us to take certain precautions. So here we are back in church.
That begs the question: who is in charge of the church and of our local congregation in particular? Are we required to close our doors every time the government tells us to? This question would be easy to answer if the governing officials ordered us to stop preaching God’s Word. Then we would have to “obey God rather than men” (Act. 5:29) and ignore the order. But the current case is not like that. The government imposed restrictions across society to try to protect the population and keep it safe. Protecting the population is a proper function of government which Christians support.
So where exactly should the line be drawn between church and state? They can’t be totally isolated and kept apart, or else you and I would have to choose one side or the other. But we are members of both. Martin Luther and others have talked about them as the “two kingdoms.” The church is the kingdom of God’s right hand where the emphasis is on grace and forgiveness. The state is the kingdom of God’s left hand where the emphasis is on law and justice. Without the kingdom of the left, we would live unhappy lives in anarchy and chaos. Without the kingdom of the right, we would live without hope and the promise of a better life after this one.
But living simultaneously in these two kingdoms can be tricky, as we have seen in the last few weeks. The Christians who first read St. Peter’s First Epistle did not have it any easier. In fact, they lived at a time of severe persecution by the Roman authorities. Many Christians were killed for their faith, and if the history is accurate, Peter was martyred in Rome also. I am sure it happened that non-Christians turned in their Christian neighbors to the authorities simply because they did not like them or because they hoped to gain from their deaths.
And what advice did Peter send to these Christians “under fire”? He told them to suffer patiently, to be kind, and to honor the authorities. This sounds like a different Peter than the one who was so ready to use his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. At that time Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mat. 26:52). Christians have the right to use their voice as citizens in our country, but we are not called to use physical violence to get our way.
Peter learned this lesson, and now he reminded the recipients of his letter that they are “sojourners and exiles.” They and we are not to imagine that the sinful world is our permanent place of residence. It is tempting for all of us to get more caught up in our rights as citizens than in our righteousness as saints, to pin our hopes on political activism rather than on the promises of God. We are only “sojourners” here; we’re just passing through. Ultimately, St. Paul writes, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phi. 3:20).
And that is why we can live without fear even while a new virus rages through our country and the rest of the world. We are not desperate to hang on to this life for the sake of this life. Whether it is tomorrow or next week or next year or many years from now, our death will come if Jesus does not return first. We can embrace that death when it comes because Jesus has conquered death and forced it to serve His purposes. Now death is the dark doorway that leads us into the bright and glorious realm of heaven. There we will be not “sojourners and exiles”; we will be permanent citizens.
But we are not in heaven yet. While we are here, we have responsibilities to our neighbors, including our neighbors in the government. Peter writes that we should submit or “be subject… to every human institution… that by doing good [we] should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” We are not motivated like so many others are by power or money or fame. Those are earthly things that cannot last. The whole world is caught up in the pursuit of these empty things.
What we have is far better. We have righteousness, redemption, and salvation. We have forgiveness, hopefulness, and life. We have freedom in Christ—freedom from our sin, freedom from the curse of the law, freedom from death. What are the fleeting things of the world compared to these eternal things? Christ has broken us free from these chains. So Peter urges us to “[l]ive as people who are free.”
But how can he say at the same time “live in freedom” and “submit to the authorities”? It is because both things—heavenly freedom and earthly authority—come from the same source. Peter writes, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” “[live] as servants of God,” be subject to masters while being “mindful of God.” We submit to our authorities not because we fear, love, and trust in them above all things, but because we fear, love, and trust in God. We recognize that He has established the earthly authorities. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Joh. 19:11).
But what happens when the authorities behave badly, and instead of punishing the evil and praising the good, they do the opposite? Then they have clearly abused the power God has granted them, like when they persecuted and killed those early Christians. And while it is proper to point out corruption and sin even when committed by ruling officials, yet they are still to be respected and honored—not for their own sake but “for the Lord’s sake.” Our eyes are always on Him. Good rulers and bad rulers come and go, but “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:11), and He isn’t going anywhere.
It is so easy to forget this. We forget that the Lord reigns, that He is in control. We are often looking and hoping for a perfect leader on earth, a new “messiah,” who will set everything right. Or we let a bad ruler shake our faith in the providence of God. We are so quickly caught up in these “passions of the flesh, which wage war against [our souls].” We don’t want to take the humble path. We don’t want to face trouble. We don’t want to suffer. We want things to go our way and on our timeline.
Our pride and selfishness are exactly the reasons God needs to humble us. This is why He lets trials and hardships come our way. He wants us to remember that He is the Lord, and there is none like Him. The unbelieving world in the midst of a crisis may put its total confidence in human ingenuity, medicine, or financial security. But these are temporary solutions that cannot save us. At best, they can only push off the inevitable.
Only the Lord can save, and He does save. Like you, I don’t know what the future will look like. I don’t know what illnesses, injuries, or hardships may come to us or to the people we love. I don’t know how many days the Lord has numbered for us, whether many or few. But I do know this: Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has redeemed us with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. He took the humble path. He willingly faced trouble and anguish. He obeyed His Father’s will all the way to the point of His death.
He did this so that we would have forgiveness of all our sins, no matter what stains are on our past. He did this so we would have strength to face our trials knowing that He understands our suffering. He did this so we would have life whenever our present troubles come to an end. Jesus’ death accomplished all these things, and His resurrection assures us that these blessings are ours. We do not follow a leader who had the ability to inspire but couldn’t deliver on his promises. We follow the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is why we freely submit to those in authority over us “with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” We do this out of love for the Lord, who has commanded us to behave in this way. We don’t know how He will use our humble example and honorable conduct. Perhaps it is to draw others, including government officials, to His saving grace so that that they will join us in glorifying God on the day of Christ’s return.
So in all things and at all times, We Serve the Lord. We take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luk. 9:23). We go about our work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). And we take comfort that it is He who keeps us safe. It is He who blesses our work. It is He who holds our present and our future. It is He who saves us and will take us to be with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
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(picture from “Christ before Pilate” by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
In Christ Jesus, whose name must be glorified on earth as it is in heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His disciples were glad to be associated with Him. The crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road and sang the praises of their king. They welcomed Him in this way because of the miracles He had performed, most recently raising Lazarus from the dead. “Blessed is… the King of Israel!” they shouted (Joh. 12:13). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luk. 19:38). “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mat. 21:9).
The people of the crowd believed He was the promised Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies. The Jewish religious leaders who hated Jesus threw up their hands and said, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (Joh. 12:19). Even some Greeks approached one of the disciples and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). Jesus had quite a following! The twelve disciples were glad to go along for the ride. Jesus was a “somebody,” somebody people paid attention to and wanted to know.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. A person can go from a hero one minute to a villain the next, from rich and famous to poor and forgotten, from influential to ignored, from boom to bust. We have seen this happen to celebrities, politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, and plenty of others.
Jesus’ popularity took a major hit also. The week that started with crowds singing His praises and offering their cloaks for His donkey to walk on, ended with crowds calling for His crucifixion and soldiers dividing up His clothing. Such a change in fortune usually indicates that a major transgression was committed or that a clear boundary was overstepped. This was not the case with Jesus. He did nothing different than He had always done. He spoke the truth. He urged the people to “Trust in the LORD with all [their] heart, and… not lean on [their] own understanding” (Pro. 3:5).
He taught them to put away their self-righteousness and pride and to live a life of humble faith and service. That does not come naturally to us. By our inherited sinful nature, we care the most about pursuing our own passions and plans and receiving praise for our achievements. We can hardly “make a name for ourselves” by sacrificing our own desires for the benefit of others. It comes naturally to want to be loved, rather than to look for ways to show love.
This is why Jesus was opposed. He preached a message that was contrary to human thinking. He preached hope to the “bad” people, the cast-offs, who believed His promises. And He condemned the “good” people, the self-righteous, who were not as holy as they thought. He was no slick politician. He did not guard His words in certain company or say what each particular audience wanted to hear. He told them what they needed to hear.
That had consequences, but they were not unexpected consequences. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew what His clear teaching and His life of humble service would gain for Him. He did not live and work for the approval of the world. He cared about saving it. In today’s inspired text, St. Paul wrote that Christ Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus had knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet. He had also given them a new Meal, the Supper of His own body and blood to eat and drink for the remission of their sins. And how did they show their gratitude for such love? As He walked with them to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told them, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Mat. 26:31). Peter replied with so much confidence, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (vv. 33, 35). The other disciples said the same thing.
But a short time later facing a well-armed crowd, “all the disciples left [Jesus] and fled” (v. 56). For the next few days, the name “Jesus” was one that no one wanted to be associated with. Boastful Peter denied three times that he knew Him. The disciples all went into hiding except for John. They felt so proud to be connected to Jesus on Sunday when things were going well, but now they crouched in the darkness, ashamed.
We can hardly blame the disciples. I don’t expect we would have done any better. Each of us in our own lives has been ready to give up Jesus for less. The disciples hid when their Teacher was arrested, brutally beaten, and crucified. We have left Jesus not because our lives were threatened, but because we did not want to be made fun of, we did not want to be left out, we did not want to deny our sinful desires, we did not want to take a stand against error.
In these ways, we have dishonored the Lord’s holy name. His name is hallowed “when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God live holy lives according to it” (First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer). When we do not teach rightly or live purely, we dishonor His name.
God wants His name to be honored because His name includes everything about Him, who He is and what He does. God told Moses to call Him, “I Am,” or “Yahweh” in Hebrew (Exo. 3:14). That is God’s personal name, a name to honor in every way. When Jesus came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people recognized that He came from Yahweh: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”
He came on behalf of His Father, with His blessing, to do His work. The work He had given His Son to do was to become the Servant of all, to take their sins upon Himself, to suffer in their place, and to endure the anguish of their eternal death. That is how Jesus glorified the Father’s name. And that is how He redeemed the whole world from its sin.
He suffered for all the ways the Lord’s name has been abused by false teaching and sinful living. He suffered for your hesitation to confess His name, for your choosing the world over Him, for your sinful stubbornness, selfishness, and pride. His name was trampled and cursed, so you would have a clean conscience and a good reputation before God. He was condemned as a guilty sinner, so you would be regarded as an innocent saint.
Jesus humbly did all these things in obedience to His Father and in perfect love for you. Because of His holy work, Paul writes that “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” The name of Jesus which seemed destined to be forgotten on Good Friday has been preached throughout the world generation after generation since then. His name is The Name That Is Above Every Name.
The most important people of a year, a decade, or a century are eventually forgotten. The names of very few people are remembered fifty or a hundred years after their death. But the name of Jesus endures because of what He did for you and me and all sinners. In fact, His name describes His work for us. The name Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation”—“The LORD saves.” No greater thing has ever been done or ever will be done for the world. God became a man to save us.
After Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, they now boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus. Peter who had denied knowing Jesus the night of His death, now stood before the very religious leaders who had sentenced Jesus to die. He said to them, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Act. 4:11-12).
Only Jesus can give forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He has given and still gives these things to you. He is glad to have His name associated with you. You are called a “Christian”—a “Christ-ian”—a follower of Christ. God put His name on you and claimed you as His own when you were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19).
Being joined to His name by faith is to be joined to all the good things He is and does. By faith in your Savior, you share in His holiness, His honor, and His glory. You don’t have to “make a name for yourself,” because you have a far better identity in Jesus. There is no name above His. And even though His name continues to be disrespected and despised in the world today, this does not change what He accomplished for sinners. He won the victory over sin, death, and the devil, and He reigns victorious even now at the right hand of the Father.
His name is not honored in the world like it should be, but on the last day all creatures will glorify the name of our Lord. Paul writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Unbelievers will acknowledge Him then, though they will not rejoice at His coming because they will be condemned. But the whole company of believers will joyfully welcome Him just like that Palm Sunday crowd. And we will cry out with one voice, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
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(picture from “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)