The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who came to bring mercy and salvation to the afflicted and the hurting, for which He deserves eternal thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
When you are too busy to get something done, there are different ways you can address the problem. You can prioritize, and let the things drop that are less important. You can delegate the responsibility to someone else. Or you can hire somebody else to do the job. We do this when we hire lawnmowers and housecleaners, or when we go out for a meal at a restaurant.
What if you hired someone to do the spiritual things that you know you should do, but you just can’t seem to find the time for? You could hire someone to have devotions with your kids. You could hire someone to pray. You could hire someone to give thanks to God for your blessings. If you hired someone to be thankful on your behalf, what would that look like? As you start to think about the blessings God has given you personally, in your family, at home, at church, at work, in your community, you realize that giving thanks is hardly part-time work. It is ongoing, constant, something that should happen daily.
Even the world recognizes the importance of thankfulness. We hear people talk about how we should have an “attitude of gratitude” every day and not just once a year in November. But there should be more to our thankfulness than an attitude or a habit. An atheist can be thankful. A Muslim can be thankful. Our thankfulness as Christians is much different than theirs.
We see the difference in today’s Gospel reading. Ten men had leprosy. They had a skin disease that forced them to quarantine from others. They had to live outside the town in their own community. They could not continue in the jobs they had. They could not go near their families and friends. It was something like the stay-at-home orders of March 2020 but with no promise of things getting better. There was nothing for lepers except the constant presence of disease, the slow deterioration of their health, and the company of other sick and heartbroken people.
But at some point, they heard about a man named Jesus who had the power to heal. And then they learned that He was entering a village nearby. They stood at a distance and cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Those are serious words. We don’t cry out for mercy when we miss a turn or run out of milk or butter. We cry out for mercy when we face something difficult that we don’t have the power to fix.
You may have cried out for mercy when a new virus made its way around the world, or when you were seriously ill at home. You may have cried out for mercy when someone you love was diagnosed with heart failure or cancer, or when someone close to you died. You may have cried out for mercy when things were not going well at home, at work, or at school.
Jesus hears those cries, just as He heard the cry of those lepers. He knows the anguish behind the cry, and He also sees the faith. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He is merciful. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He has the power and the desire to help. He is merciful, and He does want to help.
The ten lepers believed this—at least at that time. And when Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, they went. As they were going, they realized that a miracle had happened. They had no more leprosy—their skin was healed! You heard what happened next. Only one of the ten came back to thank Jesus; the rest were too busy, too focused on their own plans. The one who came back would have seemed the least likely to return. He was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans and Jews generally avoided each other. But this Samaritan fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.
I imagine the other men were thankful too. How could they not be? They were thankful to be cleansed. They were thankful that they would be able to see their families again, thankful to return to normal life. But here is where we see the difference between the thankfulness of believers and the thankfulness of everyone else. The thankfulness of the nine men was a thankfulness for. The thankfulness of the one was especially a thankfulness to.
The nine were thankful for healing and for all the good things they were about to enjoy. The Samaritan was thankful for those things also, but most of all he was thankful to the merciful Lord. Jesus Himself made the distinction. He said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” All ten were thankful, but only one was thankful to God.
You can see how mere thankfulness is not acceptable before God. God is the one who has mercy. He is the Giver. So we should give thanks to Him. The Samaritan did this. He had cried out for mercy, and Jesus had answered. The man had not healed himself—Jesus had. Here was the evidence of the man’s faith. He was not too busy to give thanks. He didn’t have something more important to do. He gave all praise and glory to the Lord for his miraculous healing. And Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—or as it can also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”
We want to learn to be thankful like this Samaritan, thankful to the Lord at all times. The apostle Paul often talks about the practice of Christian thankfulness. Paul had a lot of things to complain about. His was not a carefree life. But in his letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Th. 5:16-18). And in his letter to the Ephesians he said, “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
Both passages tell us why we can be thankful always, no matter what we are experiencing. We are thankful because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, willingly came into this world of trouble and death. He did not shrink back from sinners, like people would from a group of lepers. He took our sins to Himself and provided His holy blood as the antidote for our spiritual disease. His blood cleanses us from every sin (1Jo. 1:7). There is nothing that now keeps us from the eternal gifts God has stored up for us in heaven.
But maybe your back hurts. You don’t have the energy you used to. You wish you could lose a few pounds. You are not as secure financially as you want to be. You don’t get the support at work or at home that you need. We can always identify things we are not thankful for. It is very easy to make that list. But there is far more good in our lives than evil. The Lord is merciful toward us.
He has mercy upon us even when we don’t respond to it like we should. Jesus knew that nine of the lepers would not return to give thanks, and He still healed them. In the same way, He knows that we will get distracted by the things of this life. We will think we are too busy to hear His Word, pray to Him, and thank Him for His gifts. And yet His mercy endures.
In church each week, we cry out for this mercy. We acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. We admit that we are unable to fix all the wrongs we have done and save ourselves. From our own leper colony, from this congregation of sinners, we cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And He does. He comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. He returns us to the cleansing waters of Baptism through His absolution. He brings healing to our body and soul through His holy body and blood. And then He sends us home with His blessing, saying to us as He did to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—“your faith has saved you.”
Faith trusts what Jesus promises in His Word even when we are experiencing great problems and troubles. Was Jesus merciful the day before the lepers cried out to Him? Yes, He was merciful even while they remained in their leprosy. Our pains and difficulties in this life are not signs of God’s disinterest or His lack of mercy toward us. He often uses these things for our good, to draw us closer to Him.
Think about your own life. When is it that you are the most thankful? Probably when you no longer have what you used to take for granted. You are not so thankful for good health until you are sick. You are not so thankful for a job until you are let go. You are not so thankful for your possessions until they are taken from you.
We give thanks in good times and bad because we see how our merciful Lord keeps bringing us blessings. We learn that His mercy toward us is constant. His love toward us does not change. He is always ready to help and strengthen us. He is always ready to forgive us even though we have failed so many times to be thankful.
His mercy does not depend on our thankfulness. But it does make Him glad when we, like the Samaritan, bring our thanks to Him for all the wonderful works He does in our lives. And so we join the psalmist in saying, “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1).
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 Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 2:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who is aware of the troubles in our life and comes to help us through His Holy Word, dear fellow redeemed:
Some of you may have enjoyed the British historical drama, Downton Abbey, when it aired over the past decade. It was about an aristocratic family living in England around 100 years ago. But the story was just as much about this family’s servants and attendants as it was about them. In going about their work, these servants were to act as though they saw nothing and heard nothing about the aristocratic family affairs. Of course, they were in the know about everything. In many respects, they were aware of more than the lord who oversaw the whole operation.
This scenario is true of many organizations. The employees that don’t draw attention to themselves, the quiet ones, often know far more than they let on and far more than their superiors realize. We see this in the account of Jesus’ first major sign. Jesus, His mother, and His disciples were invited to a wedding. Naturally the main focus at the wedding would have been the bride and groom. The parents of the wedding couple also would have played a prominent role. And to some extent, so would the master of the feast who made sure everything ran smoothly.
The servants working at the wedding would have gone mostly unnoticed. Think of the weddings you have attended. The only time you are really aware of the banquet staff is if they make a major mistake like dropping something or getting way behind schedule. Usually the staff stays silent and anonymous, which is how they are trained to work. But while the guests are eating, drinking, and having a good time, it is the staff which is aware of potential problems.
Surely the servants at the wedding in Cana were aware that the supply of wine was rapidly diminishing. This must have made them anxious. For one thing, they didn’t want to take the blame for something out of their control. And maybe they were anxious about how the bride and groom would take the news that their party was about to end. With the bridegroom in charge of the wine supply, how would he handle the shame? How would his bride handle it?
We can see a parallel between the trouble at this wedding and the troubles that married couples face today. The devil wants nothing more than to drain all love and joy from a marriage, especially a Christian marriage. He is willing to try every angle of attack. He tries to divide husband and wife through financial difficulties, health problems, or personality conflicts. He tries to ruin their trust for each other through pornography use or by tempting them to withhold marital relations for reasons of punishment or manipulation. He reminds them of the wrongs committed against them while urging them to forget the wrongs they have done.
There is trouble in every marriage. The couple that says they never had a serious fight in fifty or sixty years of marriage is either lying or is blissfully forgetful. Trouble in marriage started right when sin started. When God confronted Adam with his disobedience, Adam was quick to pass the blame to Eve, and then Eve passed the blame too (Gen. 3:11-13). That’s what sin does to marriage. It makes us want to pass the blame and to be served instead of to serve.
And yet marriage remains one of the greatest gifts God has given mankind. Even if you are not married now or ever intend to be, you agree that marriage is a blessing. All of us are products of marriage, or we have been influenced in significant ways by married people. Marriage is as old as time. It promotes safety, security, and stability. It is the foundational institution on which everything in our society is built—family, workplace, government, and so on.
It is through marriage that God gives lifelong companionship. He calls a man and a woman to share one another’s joys and sorrows, to carry each other’s burdens, to encourage one another. He gives them the gift of physical union, and through sex, He often gives the blessing of children. Children can be a headache—they are sinners too just like their parents. But no legacy on earth lasts longer or is more treasured than the legacy of children and grandchildren.
Many hear this description today and say, “I can have all these things without marriage. Marriage is overrated. My parents had a terrible marriage, and I don’t want to walk down that path.” So they share a home with a significant other and share a bed and maybe even have children together. The difference between that and marriage is that marriage is about sacrifice while co-habitation is driven by selfishness. Marriage is about giving my whole self and all that I have to another. Co-habitation is about holding some back, staying guarded, and walking away when the going gets tough.
So those of you who are married have a tall order. Not only are you supposed to make your marriage work, but your marriage also stands as an example for others. Like those servants anxiously waiting to see how the bride and groom would handle the lack of wine, there are many eyes watching to see how trouble is addressed in your marriage. Those might be the eyes of your children, your friends, your neighbors, or your co-workers.
What do they see when trouble comes? Do they see you treating one another with care and respect? Do they hear you speak well of one another and forgive each other’s wrongs? Or do they see husband and wife pointing fingers, losing their temper, and speaking negatively about each other? We who are married would have to say it depends on the day or on the situation.
No marriage is perfect. Any of you who have been married can think of times you were not the spouse you should have been. You lost your temper. You spoke harshly. You gave the silent treatment. You accused instead of apologized. It all seemed so easy when you were making your vows to each other so many years ago. You were so much in love. But that love was soon tested, and you didn’t always pass those tests with flying colors.
We don’t know how the couple at Cana would have dealt with the wine shortage at their wedding banquet. In fact, as far as we know, they were never even aware of the trouble. Why? Because Jesus was there. Jesus told the servants to fill six large jars with water. Then He told them to take some to the master of the feast. Jesus had changed the water into wine, some of the best wine the master of the feast had ever tasted.
Jesus spared the bride and groom of embarrassment and trouble at this special occasion. He wanted them and their guests to have joy. If people want to know what Jesus thinks of marriage, here you go. He could have performed His first sign anywhere, and He chose to do it at a wedding celebration. He loves it when people get married. Marriage has His blessing.
We see how highly He thinks of marriage by the way His connection to His Church is described. St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Ephesians 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” (5:25-27).
Of course this cleansing of sin applies not just to the married, but to all. Married, unmarried, widowed, or divorced—all of us have stains of sin on our past. We have not loved like we should. We have taken those closest to us for granted. We have put ourselves first. We have been jealous of the blessings and joys that others have.
God’s Son took on flesh for you. He came to give Himself for an imperfect bride, to suffer and die not for His own wrongs but for the wrongs of the sinners He loved. He did not wait for you to earn His love. Even when you were opposed to Him, even when you were His enemy, He sacrificed Himself for you (Rom. 5).
Whatever your sins may be against your spouse or any others God has brought into your life, all those sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. You may find it hard to forgive, but it is not hard for Him. Even before you ask for His forgiveness, already you are forgiven. God looks upon you with favor as though you have never sinned. Because you have been united with Jesus in Holy Baptism, you now stand before God “holy and without blemish.”
And Jesus is still here to help and save when you experience trouble in marriage or in life. He comes through His Word and Sacraments to help you serve better those whom He has placed in your life and to love more. You may face many struggles and difficulties in your marriage or your relationships with others close to you. You may feel like you are the only one trying and that the burden of making things work is too much.
Jesus promises to strengthen you even for this, to love even when love is not returned and to give of yourself even when it feels like you have nothing left to give. The troubles you face may seem overwhelming, and the people around you may agree. But Jesus knows how to turn tasteless water into delicious wine.
The servants at the wedding banquet watched Jesus Quietly Bring Joy out of Trouble, and He does the same for you. He comes through His Word with wonderful gifts for you. He comes to bring you His cleansing, His love, His holiness, and His life. Where Jesus does His saving work, then there is joy.
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 a work by a 10th century monk)