The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, whose gracious healing is impartially offered to all sinners, dear fellow redeemed:
The ten men in today’s Gospel were infected with leprosy, a disease that especially attacks the skin and nervous system. Nine of these men were Israelites and one was a Samaritan. They would typically have been at odds with each other, but their common illness brought them together. Any differences in their social status were set aside by their desperate situation. Leprosy was a great equalizer.
This disease is still active around the world but is rarely seen in the United States. In our country, the top two causes of death are heart disease and cancer. It would be difficult to find someone who had not lost a close relative or friend to one of these diseases. They are illnesses that strike all types—the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the physically weak and the physically fit.
When people are diagnosed with serious conditions like this, they are often willing to do whatever it takes to get better. They will endure the rigor and discomfort of treatment plans and surgical procedures. They will suffer the various side effects from medication. They will commit large amounts of time and money—all in the hopes of regaining the health they had before. This shows how valuable people consider their health to be.
It’s also the case that we place a higher value on things that are harder to come by and not as available as they were before. When we are in good health, we take it for granted. We don’t recognize what we have until we don’t have it anymore. Nothing gets a person exercising and watching what he eats like a health scare does. Even a cold or a headache remind us what we have to be thankful for.
Now suppose you had a serious health problem, and somebody offered you medication with a 100% success rate. “There must be a catch,” you think. “Why don’t more people take advantage of this? The cost must be astronomical! The side effects must be unbearable!” You are informed that the side effects are nothing compared to your disease, but the cost is indeed much higher than you could afford. “But don’t worry!” you’re told. “The cost has been covered for you! You’re going to be cured!”
How would you feel about this? Shocked, no doubt, and blessed. How about thankful? The ten men were healed of their leprosy at no cost to themselves. There were no side effects. The only prerequisite to their healing was that they listen to Jesus’ word and do what He told them. Now this took faith! Why show themselves to the priest when nothing about their condition had changed? Right after Jesus talked with them, the patches of leprosy still showed up on their skin. But then on the way, they were cleansed! Their trust in Jesus was rewarded.
They were shocked. They felt blessed. But for whatever reason, they did not return to thank their Healer. Only one of them—the Samaritan—turned back praising and thanking God as He fell at Jesus’ feet. But then the other nine lepers had a lot on their minds! Jesus told them to show themselves to the priest, and the process of being declared clean was time consuming. Besides, they missed their loved ones terribly. God wouldn’t want them to delay their reunion, would He? He wouldn’t discourage them from returning immediately to their homes and occupations.
Leprosy was a great equalizer. When the men had it, they together cried out for Jesus’ mercy. But when their disease no longer troubled them, they forgot about Jesus. Jesus did not forget about them. “Were not ten cleansed?” He asked. “Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Their ungratefulness should trouble us just as it troubled Jesus. We may even imagine that we would have been like the Samaritan. We would have returned to give thanks. But let’s move the question from the theoretical to the actual. Jesus has not healed us from leprosy, but He has healed us from something far worse, something much more damaging than an infection. He has healed us from our sin.
This sin had left its mark on every inch of our body and soul. It had traveled through every vein. It saturated our heart. How could we be freed from its terrible effects? Some just let it be. They act like it isn’t there. They are like the guy with frostbite, who says he doesn’t feel pain, but who can’t move his fingers anymore either. Others figure they can address the sin on the inside by doing good works on the outside. But no matter how good a rotting board or rusted car looks with a new coat of paint, the issue underneath the paint will keep getting worse.
No human remedy could fix the problem of sin. Sin is a great equalizer, which affects all people the same. The harder we try to get rid of it ourselves, the deeper it sinks inside. We who are responsible for our sin are not qualified to remove it. And God wants us to know this. He wants us to admit our powerlessness over sin. He wants us to humbly acknowledge that we have a problem.
And God has the solution. The solution is His only Son. He sent His perfect Son to become Man. Sending His Son into the sinful world was something like a father pushing his healthy son into a leper colony. In that respect, Jesus did not belong here. He was far above this place, this world. He did not deserve to be sent in among sinners.
But He came willingly. He had compassion on His people. He saw their sorry state. He heard their cries for mercy. He came to save them. The only way to free them from their sin was to take their sins upon and into Himself. Their sin required a spotless Lamb, a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was that “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh. 1:29). When He was nailed to the cross, all our sin was nailed there with Him. “[B]y means of his own blood,” He secured our “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). He paid the price in full. He “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26).
This payment was made for all sinners. But an inheritance does a person no good unless he is informed about it. God distributes His salvation through the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives the blessings of Christ’s death through the message of Christ’s death. Now this Word of God does not appear to have much power. It does not make the pages of a Bible glow. It does not always seem to have a great effect on those who hear and read it. Jesus’ Word to the lepers didn’t seem effective either. But hearing His Word and believing it, the lepers were cleansed.
God promises that His Word will not return to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). It brings healing to the sick, comfort to the distressed, and peace to the hurting. And you know this in your own life. You know the relief you have when you lay your sins before Jesus and hear His Word of forgiveness absolving you of all your sins. You hear Him declare you clean and pure in His sight and an heir of eternal life. There is no spiritual bill of health we could receive that is better than this.
But it is easy to take God’s grace for granted. We may think that we have heard this Gospel message plenty of times. We know what Jesus did for us. We don’t need to hear about it again and again. We can go without the Word and Sacraments for a while. They will be there for us when we have time for them. And in this way, we see the availability of the Gospel something like the availability of oxygen. It’s always there when we need it, so we don’t need to give it much thought. “When I need an extra supply,” we say, “I’ll know where to find it.”
Why don’t we treasure these blessings of God more? Is it because they are too easy to get? Would we value them more if they were harder to come by? If that is the case, then we are saying we want some of the responsibility for making things right with God. Or is it actually that we want some of the credit? Those efforts all fail. We cannot get ourselves right with God. He made peace with us, and He brings us that peace through the means of grace.
And His grace is easy to get. Martin Luther wrote that if “forgiveness of all sin, grace, and eternal life” could come by picking up a piece of straw or by plucking out a feather, wouldn’t we do this joyfully? Wouldn’t we treasure and cherish those simple items? “Why then are we such disgraceful people,” he asks, “that we do not regard the water of baptism, the bread and wine, that is, Christ’s body and blood, the spoken word, and the laying on of man’s hands for the forgiveness of sin as such holy possessions?” Why don’t we appreciate that by these means, “he wishes to sanctify and save [us] in Christ?” (“On the Councils and the Church,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 41, p. 172).
By our sporadic or reluctant use of God’s Word, we show that our spiritual health is not as valuable, not as pressing a concern, as it should be. We show ourselves to be ungrateful for the cleansing of sin carried out by the Lord. We overlook this blessing because our minds are often on other things, things that will not last.
And yet God has called us once again to receive the antidote for sin through His Word. He has not taken back His gifts from us. He has not cast us out because of our ungratefulness. He cleanses us today. He restores our spiritual health. He strengthens our faith so that we want to hear His Word more and serve Him more faithfully. He does this because we are valuable to Him. We are worth His time. He has mercy on us, and His mercy endures 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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(“The Healing of Ten Lepers” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gives more than we ask for or could even imagine, dear fellow redeemed:
Two farmers planted their crops and closely watched the progress of their growth. One of them worried every step of the way. First he worried that the ground would dry out, so the seed could be planted. Then he worried that the plants would get the right amount of rain and sunshine. Rarely were the conditions on any given day perfect. If it was sunny and hot, he worried about the plants having enough moisture. If it was sunny and cool, he worried about slow growth. If it began to rain, he worried about too much or too little falling. He often thought about his bad fortune when things weren’t looking so good. There was not much joy in his work.
The other farmer considered all these factors, but he realized that hardly any of them were in his control. He had been at it long enough to know that the crop almost always turned out—some years a little better and some years a little worse. He didn’t get too excited by the highs or too depressed by the lows. Farming hadn’t made him rich, but it was a good way of life. He enjoyed his work.
The difference between these two men could be chalked up to personality—one was more easy-going, the other a worrier. But the difference could also be that one relied on the Lord to provide for his needs, while the other relied on himself. If your livelihood and success depended entirely on you, of course you would be full of worry and stress! But if you know that the living God cares for you, His dear child, you will confidently look for blessings from His hand.
We see a wonderful example of the Lord’s care in today’s Gospel lesson. A great crowd had been with Him for three days and had even followed Him into the wilderness. Any food they had brought with them was all but gone. But the text does not say that the people approached Jesus about their hunger.
They did not have to ask Jesus to feed them, because He already knew. His care for them came from His own heart of love. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said. “And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Not only was he aware of their hunger. He was aware that some had further to travel than others. He knew these people, and He cared for them deeply.
He wanted His disciples to have the same care for the people. He wanted them to love these neighbors of theirs and to participate in their help. But all they could produce was seven loaves of bread. How could such a small amount feed four thousand men? Reasonably speaking, it couldn’t. There probably wouldn’t even be one crumb available for each person who was present.
But God, as the Bible says, “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). We so often forget that. We assume that most everything in our lives depends on ourselves. This causes us to despair when things go bad or to be full of pride when things go well. We forget that it is the Lord who provides.
If we do well at our work, we should remember that God has given us the strength, the mental capacity, and the character traits to do a good job. This is what we recite in the First Article of the Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them” (Small Catechism). If God did not give and preserve these qualities, we could not do anything. Our success comes entirely from Him.
But we don’t always succeed in our work. Does that mean the Lord has failed to provide for us, or that He has given up on us? We know this is not the case. He cares for us. Because He cares for us, He knows exactly what we need. He knows when to bless by giving and when to bless by withholding.
Sometimes He withholds because it would not be good for us to succeed. We don’t see the trouble ahead, but He does. He may also withhold to teach us patience and endurance, or to get us to step up and work harder. Whether we receive little or plenty, we should be thankful for the portion we have and use it to the glory of God.
Jesus here also teaches us how to respond to the gifts of God. What did He do before breaking apart the seven loaves and giving them to His disciples to distribute? He gave thanks. He gave thanks for seven loaves of bread and a few small fish as He looked upon a crowd of thousands. Proportionally that would be something like giving thanks to God for one grain of rice on an otherwise empty plate. No matter the amount of the gift, we learn from Jesus to be thankful and to give thanks. Seven loaves of bread were better than none; they were something. And the Lord knew how to turn them into much, much more.
What are some of the things in your life that are easy to take for granted but are great gifts from God? Your family, for one, and your house and health and job. Any of us here can open our cupboards and see how God provides food. We can open our closets and see how God provides clothing. We can open our contact list or directory and see how God provides friends.
God typically does not give the bare minimum—He blesses us in abundance. The crowd of four thousand men ate their fill of bread and fish, and there were still seven baskets left over! In the same way, our homes are filled with good things, enough to keep us happy and satisfied for a long time.
What is our response to these gifts? Imagine if the crowd of four thousand was enjoying its miraculous lunch, and one after another started to complain and ask for more. “Could we get a little butter for this bread?” “How about some salt?” “Is there anything for dessert?” By these demands for more, the people would seem discontent and ungrateful.
How is it for you? Are you content with the gifts the Lord has given you? If you are, how do you show it? Do you remember to thank Him for what you have? One of the best times to thank the Lord is when you take time out of your day to eat. Here the Lord is providing you with the nourishment you need to continue your work. Without food and drink you could not survive.
So you ask Him to bless the food before you that it may benefit your body and strengthen you. Some of you use the “Thank You Prayer.” It is a great prayer that comes directly from Scripture. Notice that this prayer is not simply saying thanks for the food. It is thanking the Lord for His goodness and His ongoing mercy that accompanies us into eternity: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”
The Lord is good to us in so many ways, we cannot keep track of all of them. His earthly gifts aren’t even the best part of His care! The best part of our Father’s care is what He accomplished for us through His Son. Jesus’ greatest work was not turning seven loaves of bread into food for thousands. His greatest work was giving Himself up as the sacrificial Lamb on the cross and rising again from the dead in glory.
This unmatchable gift of Jesus means that our sins are no longer counted against us. Whenever we have worried that everything depended on our efforts, or despaired because our hard work did not pay off, or become prideful because of our success, or failed to give thanks to God in daily prayer, He declares us forgiven of these sins through the blood of Christ. Today is a new day, a fresh opportunity, to set aside those worries, put our trust totally in Him, and thank Him for His blessings both great and small.
God is not a vengeful overlord who will punish us for our failures. Nor does He award His gifts based on our merit. Nobody deserves the good things He gives. But He still has compassion on the crowd. He still provides for the needs of all people—and especially His dear children—on account of His loving care. If you are in need, He wants you to pray for His help. If He has given you plenty, He wants you to share with those who have little. If you have what you need but not all you want, He encourages you to pray for contentment.
The Lord loves you with a tremendous love, and He promises to provide for your needs. Jesus said, “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—what you need for this body and life—will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33). When His Word is your priority, you will find like the crowd did that all your earthly needs will be taken care of.
Then you can go about your work with joy and thankfulness. Joy in knowing that our compassionate Lord is eager to give such gifts, and thankfulness for His abundant blessings.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
In Christ Jesus, who both rules over and serves His creation, dear fellow redeemed:
Days of thanksgiving have been celebrated throughout history, but Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday in America until 1863. I am sure that not a few wondered at the timing of President Lincoln’s declaration. America was at war at the time—at war with itself. The northern and southern states fought violently against each other, in some cases brother against brother. As wives lost husbands, parents lost sons, and many others lost life and property, it would have been far easier to think of things to be un-thankful for.
Even now when we are not embroiled in civil war, our thoughts of what is going badly often overshadow our thoughts of what is going well. We have problems in our country, problems at work, problems in our homes, and problems in our bodies. And we don’t imagine the future will be much better. This is what sin has done to our world. It casts a gray cloud over all creation, and it clouds our thinking too.
The apostle Paul describes the effects of sin in this way: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23). We know that the world and we ourselves are not what God made us to be.
And yet we have reason both to be thankful and to rejoice in the Lord. The reasons for our thankfulness and rejoicing are given by David in Psalm 65. He invites us to join in praise to the God of Zion because the Lord atones for our transgressions. David says that “when iniquities prevail against me, you atone.” We are tied up in our sins. On our own, we cannot get free from them. The devil knows this, so he constantly accuses us. He wants us to believe there is no hope for us. He tells us to despair of God’s love. “How could God love a sinner like you?” he says.
But God does love us sinners. He showed His love by sending His only Son to atone for the sins of the whole world. In another of David’s psalms written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he says, “[The Lord] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:10-12). Your sins and mine are many, but Jesus atoned for them with His precious blood.
We hear this comforting absolution every time we attend divine services. And we receive this absolution in the Holy Supper of Jesus where He feeds us with His body and blood. These riches of God’s grace distributed to us in the Lord’s house cause us to join the psalmist in thanks to God: “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!”
What a marvel it is that the almighty God would “choose and bring near” such lowly sinners as us to receive His gifts. This is the God “who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” This God, who made all things wonderfully and perfectly, and who rules over all creation, became our humble servant in the flesh in order to win our salvation.
Besides His great spiritual gifts, the Lord also serves us by providing for our physical needs. Some of these blessings are listed in the psalm, blessings that God gives through His creation:
- He visits, waters, and enriches the earth;
- He prepares and provides grain;
- He settles and softens the ground and blesses its growth;
- He crowns the year with abundance;
- He prepares rich pastures and vibrant hills;
- He clothes the meadows with livestock and decks the valleys with grain.
The picture that David paints here is of the Lord freeing His creation from the sin that binds it. He lets weeds be overcome and causes good plants to grow. He fills this dying world with life by the power of His creative Word (Heb. 1:3). We can look around us and see evidence all over of the death that sin brought into the world. But we can also see examples of God’s life-giving goodness in all places.
In His goodness, He waters the ground with snow in the wintertime, causes crops to grow through the spring and summer, and gives golden grain in the fall. This provides food for us and for our livestock and product for commerce. Through these means, the Lord has given us homes to live in, cupboards and freezers with food in them, closets full of clothes, and many more gifts besides.
There is certainly much in this life to be un-thankful for, but the blessings God gives are much greater than our hardships. So we give thanks for these blessings today and every day. We take our cue from the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys and “shout and sing together for joy” in praise to God. We give thanks that He created and cares for us, that He atoned for our sins and won our salvation, and that He continues to comfort and strengthen us through His Word. We join in saying with the psalmist: “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”
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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Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 4:26-29
In Christ Jesus, who is both the reason for and the focus of our thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
Only a farmer knows how much work goes into planting and harvesting a crop. In the winter and spring, he prepares his equipment, so that it is ready to go when the weather changes. He purchases seed, watches the forecast, and checks the ground, so planting can begin whenever that window of opportunity opens. Then he watches the growth of the crop and applies time and products as needed to ensure healthy growth. As fall approaches, there is more work to do on equipment. And then the harvest begins, bringing long hours and hopefully a good yield.
But for all the time the farmer puts in, he has no control over the actual growth of the plant. He cannot make a plant do what it naturally does through the right amount of rain and sunshine. This is what Jesus points out in today’s text. He says in St. Mark 4:26-29: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Imagine if every plant had to be tended twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in order for it to grow the fruit or grain that we needed. We would look at produce much differently than we do now. Tremendous resources would be required simply for our survival. But our Lord is happy to do that diligent work for us. He is pleased to provide us our daily bread. The psalmist says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (145:15-16). If God did not apply His blessed work on a growing plant every moment of every day, no plant would survive and come to maturity.
This is not just the case with plants. This is how it was in our formation as well. Even more miraculous than the growth of a plant from a seed, is the growth of a human being from a fertilized egg. How that tiny egg could produce such a complex being is beyond our comprehension. It is a work that only God can do. The growing child is nourished by its mother, but she does not cause the child’s organs to form, its heart to start beating, or its arms and legs to take shape.
Psalm 139 tells who is responsible for these things, “For you [O LORD] formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (vv. 13-16).
The formation of our physical life is a miracle, and so is the formation of our spiritual life. Our spiritual life began with the sowing of a seed, but a seed without any form or shape. God caused the seed of His Word to be sown in our hearts. The ground of our heart was like soil that is rocky and polluted. Nothing good could grow there. But through His Word, God cleansed the soil and cultivated it, planting faith and life where before there was nothing but death.
This is how the kingdom of heaven grows. God has the seed of His Word sown, even in places where we would least expect it to do anything, and the seed sprouts and grows—we know not how. We only know that God’s Word does not return to Him empty, and that it accomplishes the purpose that He intends (Is. 55:11). The person who sows the Word is not important. What is important is that the Word is proclaimed, through which the Holy Spirit does the work. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1Cor. 3:7).
That spiritual growth happens throughout a Christian’s life. The Holy Spirit not only plants the seed of faith in the heart through the Word, but He also nurtures that faith. He brings Jesus to the penitent sinner, who gives Himself as food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and strength for the weak. Just as surely as He carried the burden of all sin to the cross, so He relieves your burdens of guilt, pain, and sorrow and gives you rest.
Through a lifetime of hardships, setbacks, and struggles, the Lord refines and purifies your faith, so that you grow to maturity and are ready to be harvested for heaven on the Last Day. This is when the angels will gather you to the side of your Savior, along with all those who were grown and preserved by His grace. On that day, you will not think to yourself how your salvation was possible because of all your hard work, or because you were such a skilled Christian. The glory will be and is God’s alone.
This is why, whether we are talking about earthly or eternal blessings, we do not give thanks today in the way that so many do. We do not give thanks that we are such hard workers, or that we have earned wonderful things for ourselves, or that we are so gifted and good, so deserving of the things we call our own. No, we “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 107:1, NKJV). He is the one who has blessed us not just every now and then, not just every day, but every moment.
Our Lord produces miracles for us constantly. It is by His miraculous power alone that we have the food, home, clothing, family, and friends that we enjoy. It is by His miraculous power that we have life at all. It is by His miraculous power that we believe in a Savior who has rescued us from the destruction we deserved. And so we are thankful always, Thankful for the Every Moment Miracles, thankful to the God who is good, and whose mercy does endure forever.
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