The Second Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 5:15-21
In Christ Jesus, whom we will trust and will not be afraid, for the LORD is our strength and our song, and He has become our salvation (Isa. 12:2), dear fellow redeemed:
It’s hard to be very productive when you don’t feel good. If you have a pounding headache, even simple tasks can take a long time to accomplish. If your back is out, walking across the room or up the stairs can seem nearly impossible. Even something as small as a hangnail or a blister can steal away the satisfaction and joy you would normally have in your work. What happens to just one small part of the body can have a big effect on the whole.
The apostle Paul speaks this way about the Christian Church. He says that all believers form one body. They are brought together and held together by Jesus, who is “the head of the body” (Col. 1:17-18). When each believer is in good spiritual health, the body of Christ remains healthy and strong. But when a believer forgets that he is part of something bigger than himself, and he makes decisions that suit him alone, the whole body suffers.
Today’s text teaches us more about this. Paul explains how the body of Christ needs to walk together, think together, eat and drink and sing together—in other words how the body uses its legs, its mind, and its mouth.
Paul mentions walking together six times in his short Epistle to the Ephesians. He says that we must collectively watch our step, look carefully how we walk. There are obstacles, traps, and pitfalls all over the place where the devil wants believers to stumble and fall. We do not run recklessly along in this world assuming the road ahead will be smooth and easy. We choose our steps wisely and listen closely to the voice of our Good Shepherd as He leads us through this dark valley (Ps. 23:4).
But even though we know there is danger ahead, the Church does not sit still. We don’t hide under the bed. God has put us in this particular time and place for a reason. We might wish we lived in a different era, but God knows better. He has a purpose for us, and as long as He gives us breath, that purpose stands.
God has created and redeemed us, so that we might walk in the good works He has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). He calls us to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, and love toward one another, eager to maintain our unity on the basis of His Word (4:1-3). He warns us not to walk like the unbelievers, “darkened in their understanding,” stubbornly set on sin (4:17-19). We “walk in love, as Christ loved us” (5:2). We walk “as children of light” because Jesus is the light (5:8).
If we decide to walk each in our own direction, doing whatever we feel like doing, the mission of Christ’s Church is harmed. But what if we are not sure what direction we should go? It often happens in life that we stand at a crossroads and face two choices or a number of choices that all seem good. This may happen if you have multiple job offers, or if you have talents and interests that could take you in any number of different directions.
Then it’s time to ask some questions:
- Am I focusing more on myself or others?
- Which opportunity would be most beneficial to my neighbor?
- Which one would most glorify God?
- Which one would best enable me to stay focused on my spiritual needs?
Many make their decisions about the future based on worldly considerations—what will be the best for them, what will earn the highest wage, what makes them the happiest. But we are called to “Set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
Today’s text says, “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” We need to think about what God wants for us before we set off. Knowing comes before going. So what is His will for us? God’s will is that we believe the Gospel message. Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Joh. 6:40). God wants us to know and believe His promise of salvation, so we will join Him eternally in heaven.
He also wants us to avoid anything in this life that could cause us to lose our faith in him. He wants us to understand the evil forces that are working against us. He wants us to be diligent in prayer and the study of His Word, so we are not caught unprepared when trials and temptations come (see 1Th. 4:3-8, 5:16-18).
The functions of the body are all controlled and guided by the head. This is good news for us Christians, since Christ is the Head of His body, the Church. Jesus does not steer us wrong. He does not wish any harm to come to the body but wants it to grow stronger and healthier. He may allow trials to afflict us, so that we learn to follow His lead and put our trust in Him. This is what the athlete does when pushing his body beyond its comfort level and even into pain. The will of the mind tells the rest of the body to keep moving, keep working, keep fighting.
What Jesus has won for us and still gives us is worth the discomfort and pain we may feel in this world. God’s Son came among us in the flesh, so that He might satisfy the righteous requirements of the Law for us. He came to redeem us from all our sins. And He came to win the victory for us over our sin, death, and the devil. Jesus is the reigning Champion; He cannot be overcome. That means the Church, which is connected to Him, can’t lose either. Jesus will never give up on His Church, so the Church should never give up. “In the world you will have tribulation,” said Jesus. “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Joh. 16:33).
So we put our trust in Him. He will never lead us wrong. He won’t abandon us. We go forward step by step in the confidence of His promises. When we stumble and fall, He picks us up. When we let worries and fears overcome us, He forgives us. We live in His grace, a grace which never runs out, grace which applies equally to every part of the body, to strong and weak, to fearless or fearful.
We remind one another of His grace when we join together for worship. It is unnatural for the members of the body of Christ to be apart. Last spring you may have seen the hashtag “alonetogether” on TV or social media. In a state of isolation, we understood the “alone” part all too well, but not so much the “together” part. God intends for His children to join together to worship Him. This is how they comfort and encourage one another (Heb. 10:24-25).
We need this support from each other. We receive it in the divine service by listening to the words of the pastor who speaks as God’s representative. We also receive it by hearing our fellow Christians speak and sing around us. This is what Paul is describing when he talks about “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and “giving thanks” together. Every voice matters in our churches. The fewer the voices, the more isolated we feel. The more voices there are, the more we are reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
We are part of a larger community as members of the body of Christ. So Paul urges us always to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ in mind. We are not to “get drunk with wine,” he says, “for that is debauchery”—that is to indulge oneself, to ignore those around us in fulfillment of our own desires. Instead we Christians should “be filled with the Spirit.”
Now alcohol is poured down the throat and enters our bloodstream. If consumed in large quantities, it impairs us—it makes our ability to walk and think and speak worse, not better. But being “filled with the Spirit” does the opposite. We are filled with the Holy Spirit by hearing the Word of Christ’s forgiveness. We even eat and drink this forgiveness when the Holy Spirit brings us Jesus’ true body and blood in His holy Supper.
The work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments makes us spiritually healthier. He works through these means to increase our collective strength, sharpen our spiritual focus, and cause us to clearly speak of Him with one voice. And He inspires us to sing of the hope we have “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart[s].” He moves us to sing the Gospel to each other, the good news of our life, our forgiveness, and our salvation in Christ.
This powerful Gospel message is how the Lord draws us closer together. If we fail to partake of His Word and Sacraments, or if we decide to go our own way, we weaken the unity and fellowship God has blessed us with. But walking with Jesus by faith, meditating together on His Word, and proclaiming His grace to one another, our unity and fellowship are strengthened.
God does not intend for us to fight our spiritual battles alone or to go through this life alone. We are too weak for that. He brings us here to build us up. He reminds us that We’re in This Together. By His grace, He helps us to walk forward more confidently, think more clearly, and sing more joyfully.
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 Jerico church interior)
The Second Sunday after Michaelmas (Trinity 20) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 22:1-14
In Christ Jesus, who brought us solitary sinners into the great fellowship of the Holy Christian Church, and the Communion of Saints, dear fellow redeemed:
If you walked into an opposing team’s stadium wearing your hometown gear, if you were a Democrat living in a Republican area or a Republican living in a Democrat area, if you were a teacher assigned to a classroom of twenty rowdy preschoolers, you would agree that “there is strength in numbers.” As confident as we are when on the side of strength, we can feel quite overmatched when on the side of the few. We like to have a lot of allies. We don’t like to be singled out. Staying on the side of strength is also safer. Being part of a big crowd probably means you won’t have to take the lead. You can let others do that while lending your support. And if you are attacked in some way, you have a whole bunch of friends to back you up.
On the other side, the small group is much more vulnerable. Its members are more easily intimidated. Their voices can be ignored or drowned out. They worry about whether they are thinking and doing the right thing. After all, how could so many oppose something that is beneficial and good? They wonder if it is even worth it to take a stand, since no one will listen to them anyway.
But while it is easier and safer to be on the side of strength, it is not always best. The majority is not always right. There are examples of this throughout history. At the time of Noah, most people had fallen away from God. The LORD saw that “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The only exception was Noah and his family; they trusted God’s Word. Human sinfulness was just as evident after the Flood. Ten generations after Noah, the LORD called Abram away from idol worship to become the father of a new nation in the land of Canaan.
Then followed Isaac and Jacob, and the chosen people of God expanded. God helped them conquer the Promised Land. But growth in numbers did not lead to growth in faithfulness. The people turned to the false gods of the nations around them (Jud. 2:11), and “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6). God sent a series of judges and then kings to lead His people in the right way, but they continued to fall away from Him. When the Prophet Elijah came on the scene, he lamented that he was the only person left who followed the LORD. The LORD replied that there were 7,000 others besides Elijah who had not bowed down to Baal (1Ki. 19:18).
The pattern we see in reviewing Old Testament history is that God’s people rarely seem to have an advantage in numbers. When they do, they typically let their power go to their heads and fall in with the unbelievers. It appears that the Church of believers is strongest when it faces overwhelming odds. Think about the apostles preaching the truth about Jesus in the very city where He was killed. The message took root in people’s hearts, and they were baptized in God’s name. But as the church grew, it was weakened by the attacks of false teachers. Those attacks only intensified when Christianity was given legal status in the Roman Empire. The larger the church grew, the more it was torn apart.
The same is true today. Christianity has reached around the world. There are probably Christians in every country. But look how divided the church is! Why does this happen? It happens because of the devil’s wicked deeds. As he once incited Adam and Eve to rebel against God and His Word, so he incites sinners against Christ, and Christian against Christian. The Lutheran hymnwriter Philip Melanchthon expresses this sad reality, “The foul old dragon and dread foe / With envy, hate, and wrath doth glow; / It always is his aim and pride / Thy Christian people to divide” (ELH 545, v. 4).
Jesus says that the devil is like an enemy who comes during the night and sows weeds among the wheat (Mt. 13:38-39). The weeds grow up right alongside the wheat and make it difficult for them to remain healthy plants. The weeds may even grow within the visible Christian church. This is obvious to us. There are many who call themselves Christian who clearly are not Christian at all. They might teach that Jesus was nothing more than a noble teacher, or that God is pleased with those who disobey His Commandments. Other cases are not so obvious. Some appear to be good Christians but are actually hypocrites. Jesus promises that these will be sorted out on the last day and thrown “into the fiery furnace” (13:50).
Statistically, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. But how many who call themselves Christian actually believe in Jesus alone as their Savior? Only God knows that answer, but without a doubt, the Holy Christian Church is not as large as it seems.
We know what role the devil plays in this, but the fault lies not just with Satan. The fault of unbelief rests in our own wicked hearts. It is not God’s fault that so many reject His will and His Word. What more should He do? He created the world perfectly and handed it over to mankind to manage. But they decided to listen to a deceitful snake, and chose to love themselves instead of God. The LORD did not cast them eternally from His presence, which He would have been justified in doing. He gave them hope in a Savior, who would be born of a woman and would crush the devil’s head (Gen. 3:15).
The LORD kept that promise. The Messiah was conceived in Mary’s womb, and God became Man. Jesus healed and blessed and taught, committing no sin against anyone. But His gracious presence was not welcome. Jew and Gentile rose up and condemned Him to die by crucifixion. They abused and mocked Him. In return, He forgave them. He willingly died to win life for the wicked. Then He rose again and appeared to hundreds, so they and all people would know that the victory over sin, death, and devil was won for them. After this, He sent out the Holy Spirit to change the hearts of sinners through the Gospel. And He continued to strengthen and bless them through the Sacraments He established. What more does God need to do that He has not done?
And yet the typical response to these gifts is indifference. The king’s wedding feast is ready, and the invitations are sent out, but no one seems to care. “[O]ne [goes off] to his farm, another to his business.” Some even react violently to the message of God’s Word. They treat God’s servants shamefully and want them to be dead. This was true of the Israelites before the time of Christ, who persecuted the LORD’s prophets, and it is still the case today. This spirit of indifference is also true of us who consider ourselves serious Christians. We do not often get out of bed eager to fill our hearts and minds with God’s Word and do His will. And when God invites us to feast on His Word and Sacraments, it is easy to come up with other things to do that seem more pressing and important.
Like a person stepping on crumbling rock to get a good look over a cliff, we do not recognize how easy it is to fall from the faith. Jesus warns us, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14). So many deviate from the narrow path to heaven and join the great crowd marching to hell. How can you be sure that you aren’t one of them? How do you know if you are among the few that are both called and chosen?
Well, let me ask you a few questions:
- Are you saved because of the righteous things you have done, or because Jesus lived a holy life for you?
- Are you forgiven because you atoned for your sins, or because Jesus shed His blood and died for you?
- Will you rise again from the dead because you deserve it, or because Jesus won the victory over death for you?
If your answer to every question is Jesus, then you are among the chosen. You are the elect of God. Because “those whom he predestined—elected according to His grace—he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). God chose you from eternity to believe in Him, and He called you to that faith through the Gospel. He made you His own and cleansed your sinful heart in holy baptism, and He continues to strengthen your faith through the preaching of His Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood.
Why has He done this for you? It is not because you deserved it, or because you are better than others. This is what is so perplexing to our rational minds. We cannot explain why it is that we believe while others do not. By nature, we are just as troubled as anyone else, just as sinful, just as hostile to God. But God has been gracious to us. He chose us to “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” (Second Article of the Creed). He called us to His wedding feast, clothes us in rich garments, and has us sit down at the feast while He serves us!
There is strength in numbers, but strength and numbers are not everything. There are times When Being among the Few Is a Blessing. We thank God that He has redeemed us from the destruction we deserved and brought us into His little flock. And we pray that He keeps us steadfast in His Word and faithful to the end, as we enjoy His good gifts here and anticipate the great wedding feast in His eternal kingdom.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 13:44-50
In Christ Jesus, who promises to “rescue [us] from every evil deed and bring [us] safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2Tim. 4:18), dear fellow redeemed:
Less than a year ago, someone in California won $1.5 billion in the Powerball jackpot. That person beat odds of 292 million to 1. That’s a lot of money, but those are terrible odds. Think about your odds of catching a foul ball in a major league baseball stadium filled with 50,000 people. You could improve your odds based on where you sit, but catching a ball would be no sure thing. Even if we are talking about a community raffle, how many of those have you won in your lifetime?
Now think about your odds of being a believer in Jesus. There are over 2 billion Christians worldwide, which makes up a third of the total population. In America the percentage is even higher. Of an estimated 325 million Americans, around 75% still consider themselves Christians. But claiming to be a Christian and actually being one are different things. There are many self-identified “Christians” who could not name the three Persons of God or tell you the basic facts of Jesus’ life. Many of them believe that God is happy with them as long as they are happy, or say that whether or not Jesus rose from the dead does not change their relationship with God.
Judging by what we see in our society, the odds of a person actually believing what the Bible says are not good. There are not many who believe they are spiritually incapable and dead in their sins by nature, and that God sent His Son to redeem them. You do believe this, which means you beat those odds. Except it wasn’t really you. It was the grace of God for you, and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring you to faith in Jesus. You did not find your way into God’s favor by anything you did; rather, The Lord Has Chosen You for His Kingdom.
Have you ever been around someone who hears about God’s grace and forgiveness for the first time? You can almost see the burden lifted off their shoulders when they learn there is hope for them in Christ. You can sense the excitement in their voice when they wonder if this is too good to be true. Before they came to faith, they did not know what they were missing. But now they realize there was a treasure waiting for them all along, which only the Holy Spirit could reveal to them. They rejoice in the message of salvation and devour the Scriptures to feed their starving souls.
That attitude is often lacking in those who were raised in the Christian Church and thoroughly educated in the teachings of Scripture. We treat our faith in Christ as if it were no real miracle, and the forgiveness of sins like it is no big deal. We go to church because we know we are supposed to, but we would just as soon be in front of our TVs or heading off to one event or another. This begs the question: What is the Christian faith worth to you? What would you be willing to give up for the Gospel? Would you give up your home, possessions, and wealth? Would you give up your job? Would you give up the people closest to you? Would you give up even your own life?
The man who found treasure hidden in a field sold everything he had to buy that field. He knew that greater riches were there than anything he had before. The merchant found one pearl of great value and sold everything he had to make it his. Jesus said this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. In other words, there is no going halfway. So are we children of the world, or children of God? Do we treasure earthly things above all else, or spiritual things? For his part, the Apostle Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:8-9).
Hearing these inspiring words, you may think as I do, “I wish I had a faith like this, a faith that clings to Jesus only.” The world is full of so many distractions, so many things that tug on my heart and mind. Jesus described these things in the Holy Gospel for today (Mt. 22:1-14), when He said that of those who received an invitation to the wedding feast—the feast of salvation—“they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” Today’s hymn puts it well when it says that “we are so sluggish, thoughtless, cold” (ELH 511, v. 3). If entering into eternal life depended on our faithfulness to God, we would be barred forever from His kingdom. But our entrance into God’s kingdom does not depend on us. It depends on Jesus.
You want to talk about odds? How about the odds of the virgin Mary being chosen as the mother of the Christ Child over 2000 years ago? Why Mary? Mary was sinful like you and me. She came from the royal line of David, but that distinction did nothing to change her status as a poor woman from Nazareth. There would have been no way to predict that Mary would have this honor above all honors of carrying in her womb “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14). But she did. She gave birth to Jesus, the name told her by the angel, a name that means “the LORD saves.”
His name described His purpose. Jesus came to save. He came to save sinners because God is merciful. He does not want any to experience eternal destruction but to have eternal life with Him. In the scales of God’s justice, Jesus offered His perfect life and innocent death against the sin and death of all humanity. Martin Luther wrote about this that “if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, his side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale…. But he could not sit on the scale unless he had become a man like us, so that it could be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 41, pp. 103-104). The weight of Jesus’ work as God and Man means that on our side we are raised up to heaven as if floating on air.
But then why is it that not all are saved if Jesus did everything necessary to save sinners? It is because not everyone wants to sit in the scale opposite Jesus. In their unbelief they say they have no need of Him. “Church is for the weak-minded and the serious sinners,” they think, “but not for me.” This sad situation is what Jesus described in the parable of the net thrown into the sea. He explained that the good fish are the believers whom the angels will safely bring to heaven. But the bad fish are the unbelievers who will be cast into hell, into “the fiery furnace” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is striking that Jesus says the most here about eternal death in hell instead of eternal life in heaven. This is to give clear warning about what the future holds for those who reject Jesus.
But in the Holy Gospel for today, Jesus also provides a picture of heaven. He describes heaven as a great wedding feast. St. John’s Revelation says this is the marriage feast of the Lamb, who is eternally united with His bride, the Church (Rev. 19:9). You are part of this Church through faith in Jesus. By yourself, you are imperfect, weak, and stained by sin. But in Christ, you are holy. The letter to the Ephesians says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
The Lord chose you from eternity to believe in His Son. He did not choose you based on any good quality in you. There is no logical explanation why you believe in Jesus while others who have heard the Gospel message do not. You believe by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9). In His abundant grace, God chose you—dead in your sins by nature—to receive the gift of salvation. His eternal will was carried out in your life when you were brought to the waters of Holy Baptism and incorporated into His Church. Since then, He has continued to bless you and keep you in the saving faith through the Gospel, applied to you in Word and Sacrament.
Turning the parables in today’s text around, we might say that Jesus came looking for you, lost and hopeless in the field, and gave up the glories of heaven to purchase and win your soul. To Jesus, you are that pearl of great price, for which He gave up all He had—even His own life—to make His own. You often are “sluggish, thoughtless, cold,” but the life-giving breath of God enlivens you; it fills your heart. His Word gives you the desire and the courage to forsake the alluring treasures of the world and to seek the treasures above.
The odds seem to be stacked against your believing in Jesus and being saved. If this depended in any way on you, the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot would be excellent in comparison. But because the odds rest with God, they are greatly in your favor. You did not choose Jesus; He chose you (Jn. 15:16). He chose you to be saved by the will of His Father and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through a living faith in Him, God “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 1:8). On that day, He will transfer you from this present kingdom to His eternal kingdom of glory.
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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