The Fifth Sunday after Trinity & Installation of Vicar – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who gives fullness to the empty and faith to the fearful, dear fellow redeemed:
The brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, were fisherman. That means they knew the lake of Gennesaret—most commonly called the Sea of Galilee—better than anyone. These fishermen knew the best places to fish and the best times for fishing. But when we meet them in today’s text, they had just worked through the night without success. All they had to show for their efforts were nets full of weeds. As they washed out the nets, they were tired, discouraged, maybe even irritated. Who can pay the bills with weeds?!
But their attention wasn’t totally on their nets. They watched Jesus come down to the shore accompanied by the crowds that were always with Him these days. And as they worked, they listened. Some of these men had met Jesus before. Andrew and probably John were two who had gone to hear the preaching of John the Baptizer by the Jordan River. They were present when the Baptizer pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Joh. 1:36). So they and their brothers knew about Jesus, that He was someone significant, a Teacher unlike the scribes.
This is why Simon Peter was willing to take Jesus a little ways from shore in his boat, and why he was even willing to let down the fishing nets in the deep. Conventional wisdom said that this was neither the time nor the place to fish, and Simon said as much, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he listened and did what Jesus said. And then Simon and his companions hauled in a catch of fish like they had never seen or probably ever heard of.
Now suppose Simon had not fallen to his knees in fear. What if as he was pulling more and more fish into the boat, he hadn’t thought about his sins but only thought about the profit that this boat-load would bring? Or about the notoriety and glory he would have? He would be famous for miles around! People would write songs about this day! Simon would be a somebody!
That’s always the temptation, to take the glory that belongs to God alone, and to want to apply it to ourselves. We do this when we have success at something, and all we can think is how hard we have worked, how gifted we are, how much we deserve the recognition we receive. When things are going well, when times are good, we don’t thank God—at least not first of all. We might remember to thank Him eventually, but even then, our “thanks” can sound like the Pharisee’s: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luk. 18:11).
Simon was not wrong to fall at Jesus’ feet and confess his sinfulness. That was a totally appropriate response when he realized he was in the presence of the holy Lord. We can learn something from this. In the greatest moment of his professional fishing career, Simon did not bask in the glory of his accomplishment. He was humbled. He saw the gift he had been given, and he knew he didn’t deserve it.
But where Simon went wrong was when he asked Jesus to leave him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” If Jesus were to leave, Simon would still be a sinner. He might be less aware of his sins, but he wouldn’t have less sins. He needed Jesus to stay. He needed Jesus to save him. Jesus wasn’t about to leave. He had big plans for this big sinner. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Colin, you are embarking on this same mission. It is your desire to cast the net of God’s Word into the sea of this world and catch souls for the Lord. You are ready to apply all your talents, all your abilities, all your ideas and strategies, to this task. You want to be a good fisherman. You want to see the nets fill up with fish.
But there’s a problem: You are a sinful man. And there’s another problem: The one who is assigned to help you with this fishing, who is even now casting out the nets—he is a sinner too. What are we to do? I’d like to tell you to “Follow me!” “I’ll show you the ropes!” “I’ll teach you everything I know!” “I’ll make sure that when the year is up, you’ll know how to fish!”
If that were the case, then theoretically I should be able to teach anyone to fish. I should be able to teach anyone how to be a pastor in God’s church. But I do not think that, or if I do think it, I should be ashamed. The fact of the matter is that even our best efforts fail apart from Jesus. I could be a great speaker. I could be an expert administrator. I could have all the tools for success. But if Jesus doesn’t give the blessing, the nets go empty.
The pastor’s calling is not to say, “Follow me,” as though he can save anyone, as though he can get anyone to heaven. The pastor’s calling is to speak Jesus’ Word, to point to Jesus. The nets weren’t filled because of Simon’s skills. He and the others fished all night and caught nothing. The nets were filled because Jesus said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus filled those nets, and He filled them by the power of His Word.
Every one of you here is a living testament to the power of Jesus’ Word. You didn’t find your own way into the net of His Church. He caught you in the calm, clean waters of Holy Baptism. Through those waters, He cleansed you of your sins, He claimed you as His own, and He covered you in His righteousness. As long as you remain in the water of your Baptism by faith in Him, you will continue to be a healthy fish, full of life. The baptismal font is your fishbowl—not to keep you from experiencing what the world has to offer, but to protect you from it and to give you what the world cannot give.
Jesus promises to continue feeding and strengthening His fish through the ongoing preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments. This is why every fish needs a pastor. Now a fish could possibly survive without one. We hear so many say that today, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!” But a fish does need to stay in the water, and it does need to eat. A Christian needs to return to Baptism through the confession of sin and the absolution the pastor speaks. And a Christian needs to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, which the pastor is called to distribute.
Whether or not a Christian strongly feels the need for a pastor, Jesus feels strongly about it. That’s why He called Simon and Andrew, James and John, and all the rest of the disciples to follow Him. That’s why after His resurrection, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23). And that’s why before His ascension, He commissioned them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20).
Christians have pastors because Jesus wants them to have pastors. And because He wants them to have pastors, He still calls sinful men to follow Him. No man has the power in himself to save even one soul. But Jesus through His Word saves many souls. He fills His Church with fish. The power is His, and the glory is His.
The pastor’s or the vicar’s responsibility is to proclaim His Word. Jesus’ Word does the work. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Co. 2:2). In the same letter, he criticized them for putting too much focus on the person of the preacher. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (3:5-7).
Colin, it will be my duty to remind you this year that you are nothing, just as I am nothing. Jesus is everything. He is the Savior of us sinful men, and of all the sinful people we serve. Without Him and His Word, all the nets of our efforts will come up empty. But with Him and His Word, our work cannot fail because His Word never returns to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). I know you are ready to dive in, and so am I. “Follow Me,” says Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mat. 4:19).
Jesus does not turn any of us sinners away from Him. He does not depart from us in disgust when we fall again and again. He speaks words of assurance and peace to us. When you hear the absolution from the mouths of His fishermen—“I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”—that is Jesus speaking. Those are His words. He does not reject sinners; He forgives them. And He calls each one to follow Him in repentance and faith.
It is His Word that filled the nets with fish and His Word that fills our hearts with hope. It is His Word that changed the disciples’ priorities and His Word that gives us purpose. It is His Word that saved the sinners of old and His Word that saves sinners today. “Follow Me!” says Jesus. And He gives us the faith and the courage and the will to do it.
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 miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, who calls us to ignore the distractions of the world and listen to His careful instruction and His comforting message of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
Teachers have a lot of authority. We give them our children and ask them to help our children become well-rounded and productive members of society. Some teachers do a better job than others. We can all think of teachers who were not very qualified for that role. Maybe they had the intelligence but not the ability to convey it, or they had some ability but no depth of knowledge. Or maybe they were lazy, or they behaved inappropriately.
On the other hand, we can think of teachers we appreciated back then and still do. Maybe they expected a lot from us, but they gave us the tools to do better and do more. They helped open up subjects and topics that we never thought would interest us. They helped us understand the past and the present, so we had a clearer view of the future. We regret now that we didn’t listen to them more carefully. We would go back to their classroom if we could.
But even the best teachers may not get through to all their students. Some students are unwilling to pay attention, unwilling to learn. This happened in the case of Jesus and those who heard His teaching. We are used to Jesus being called “Savior” or “Lord,” but another common title for Him is “Teacher.” Jesus was regularly called “Teacher” by His own followers (Mar. 4:38, 9:38, 13:1) and by those who opposed Him (Luk. 10:25, 11:45, 20:21), and He even applied the title to Himself (Luk. 22:11, Joh. 13:13-14).
His teaching was always interesting and always true. But it was not always listened to. Some students think they know more than their teachers—they think they have nothing to learn. Some students think they know better than their teachers—they think their teachers are ignorant or misinformed. Even when these things are true, God tells us in the Fourth Commandment to be respectful toward our teachers as those who are in authority over us.
The scribes and Pharisees did not respect Jesus. They could not find any flaws in His character, but they identified numerous flaws in His teaching. He described a heavenly kingdom whose inhabitants were there by faith. The scribes and Pharisees believed that eternal life in God’s kingdom could only be obtained through each person’s works. They had departed from the teaching of the Scriptures. They were in error, but they blamed Jesus.
Blaming Jesus was easier than facing their own flaws, their own sins. Jesus was not teaching falsely; they just didn’t want to admit that He was right. None of us likes to admit when we are wrong. None of us likes to have our words or actions challenged. When we are accused, we are quick to fling accusations back at our opponent: “Who are you to judge me?! You’ve done much worse! Remember when you did this and said this and this and this?!”
This finger pointing is not very impressive. You see politicians do it and professional athletes and almost everyone else in the public eye. Mud-slinging doesn’t make anyone look better. It just makes everyone dirtier. Our Teacher Jesus urges a different approach: “Be merciful,” He says, “judge not… condemn not… forgive… give.” He didn’t borrow a page from His opponents’ playbook. He used God’s playbook.
We should be merciful toward others, He says, because God the Father is merciful toward us. We see a picture of His mercy in the parable of the prodigal son. The disrespectful, immoral son wasted his father’s inheritance, and yet his father still welcomed him home with open arms (Luk. 15:11-24). The Father likewise welcomes us with open arms even though we have sinned against Him and squandered His gifts. He wants us to extend the same kind of mercy to people who have wronged us.
“Judge not… condemn not”—even those who are not Jesus’ disciples love to cite these words. They think it means we should never criticize the choices that others make or warn them about their sin. If that were true, then Jesus would have contradicted Himself when He said, “Beware of false prophets,” who will be recognized “by their fruits” (Mat. 7:15-16). This obviously means to make a judgment about how someone teaches and lives.
When Jesus says “judge not… condemn not,” He is telling us first to take a hard look at ourselves. We should not in our self-righteousness be quick to judge others while at the same time minimizing our own sins. That’s like trying to get a speck out of someone’s eye when a log is sticking out of our own. If we are going to be in a position to correct others, which it is proper for us to do, we must first be willing to take correction ourselves.
“[F]orgive, and you will be forgiven,” said Jesus; “give, and it will be given to you.” These are the things that Jesus expects of His disciples—a merciful heart like the mercy of God the Father, and a humble and forgiving spirit like Jesus displayed. He endured great injustices from His enemies and was afflicted by them with great pain. Still He prayed to His Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
How does Jesus’ teaching of humility, forgiveness, and sacrifice sound to you? Much different than “survival of the fittest,” or “what goes around comes around,” or “do what feels right in your heart.” His teaching here is supremely challenging. It exposes our failure to be what God has created us to be and called us to be. We are supposed to be like our Teacher. Isn’t that the goal that every student has of a favorite teacher?
But we are not exactly like Jesus. We are not merciful like He is merciful. We are not patient and kind like He is. We do not forgive and give like He does. He is perfect, and we are not. And yet He still desires to teach us. He hasn’t kicked us out of His classroom. He continues to invite us to listen to Him and learn from Him. “Come to me,” He says. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:28,29).
Even though we haven’t been the best students, even though we have often failed to take His words to heart, Jesus still speaks gently to us. He speaks to us in the way He wants us to speak to others. He deals mercifully with us when we really deserve His wrath. He does not judge us and condemn us to hell even though we have broken the holy law. He forgives all our sins which are more than we could ever number. He gives us His eternal riches in such full measure that we overflow with His blessings.
This is what Jesus teaches in the saving Gospel. Does the Teacher Have Your Attention? Or do you think you have already learned everything there is to learn from Him? Have you gotten bored hearing about the love that God has for you and the work that Jesus did to save you? Maybe you think it is enough to simply know the facts of the Bible, and once you know them, you don’t need to hear them again and again.
But the Gospel message of what Jesus has done for us is not simply factual, it is also powerful. St. Paul writes that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Through the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are brought more and more in line with His holy life. The Gospel moves us. It changes us. It shapes us students so that we become more and more like our Teacher.
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We are not above Jesus and never could be. We will always be His disciples. But through His Word, He trains us to be more and do more in His name. By teaching us the mercy that God the Father has toward us, He moves us to “be merciful” to others. By reminding us how He let Himself be judged and condemned in our place to save us, He leads us to suffer and to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of our neighbor. By forgiving us all our sins and giving generously to us, He moves us to be kind and good to those who sin against us.
This training in righteousness through His Word continues throughout our life (2Ti. 3:16). There will never be a point in this life that we will say we are “fully trained,” that we are exactly “like Jesus.” But we can certainly grow and become more mature as disciples of Jesus. God the Holy Spirit through the message of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness refines us and shapes us to be like Jesus is. He sanctifies us through this Word. He takes what belongs to Jesus—His holiness, forgiveness, life—and He brings it to us. As we listen to what our great Teacher and Savior has done for us, we learn and grow more and more into what He calls us to be and do.
Apart from Him, we wouldn’t understand mercy and humility and forgiveness. But through faith in Him, we see what He has done for us, and we trust what He is able to do through us. The power is not in us to accomplish the tasks that Jesus has set out for us. But the power is in His Word, in His teaching, and He imparts that power to us.
Through His Word, we are brought closer and closer to the culmination of our training when we will finally meet our Teacher face to face on the last day. Then no speck or log will impede our sight. No sin will trouble and divide us any longer. We will be “fully trained”—perfectly completed. Then, as St. Paul writes, we will “be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1Jo. 3:2).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch, 1877)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 15:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who came to save the whole world, which means He came to save you, dear fellow redeemed:
A little over a week ago, some people were able to witness a solar eclipse (June 10). This is when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, casting the moon’s shadow over the earth. When this happens, it appears that the sun and the moon are exactly the same size. But of course they are not even close to the same size. The diameter of the sun is actually 400 times larger than the diameter of the moon, and the sun is 400 times further away from the earth.
In a similar way, with one hand I can block the light of the sun; I can make the sun disappear from my sight. I could even do this with a little coin if I closed one eye and held the coin in front of my other eye. But that doesn’t make my hand or a little coin bigger than the sun. It would be a mistake to think that because the sun is small from our perspective that it is not all that powerful or important. We know that without the sun, life could not exist on earth.
But as impressive and essential as the sun is, that great burning star is nothing compared to the mighty God. The sun did not create itself; God created it, along with all the stars and planets and everything else on earth. But many people think of God as very small, if they think of Him at all. “Maybe there is some god up there, way far away,” they say, “but as far as I’m concerned, my fate is in my own hands.” They don’t think that God matters. The coin in their hand seems bigger to them than God.
Have you ever watched little children play hide-and-seek? They figure that as long as they can’t see anyone, then no one can see them. Children will often hide in plain view with a blanket covering them or maybe even just with their hands over their eyes. Just because we can’t see God does not mean that God can’t see us. Just because He looks small from our perspective, does not mean that He is small.
It can appear that a coin in my hand is larger than the sun. The reality is that the sun is so large it could hold 1.3 million of our earths. It can appear that God is very small and insignificant. The reality is that He has power over all things and fills all things, and without Him we could not “live and move and have our being” (Act. 17:28).
That is an intimidating thought. We like to think that we have the power, that we are in control. We want to make the decisions. We want to go our own way. And God does allow us a great deal of latitude. He is not a puppet master tugging on all the strings. He gives us food to eat, water to drink, and air to breathe. But He does not force us to do exactly what He wants.
That sounds like a pretty good deal, except that we do not always use our freedom in the best ways. We get ourselves in all sorts of trouble because we imagine we are bigger than we actually are. We think we can take care of ourselves. We think we can succeed where so many others have failed. But then we fail too.
God told us to watch what we say or it would come back to haunt us. And we went ahead and said it. He told us not to touch that because it would burn us. And we touched it. He told us not to go there because all we would find is pain. And we went. How would you respond if you were in God’s place? Maybe you would wonder if human beings are worth all the trouble. Maybe you would turn your back on them saying, “I gave them plenty of chances, and they blew it.”
But that is not what God does. He seeks after us when we wander. He picks us up when we fall. He carries us through the pain we brought on ourselves. This is what Jesus illustrates in the two parables for today. A crowd of people had gathered around Him—people who did not have good reputations. They were “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax collectors were despised because they assisted the Romans and often exacted higher taxes than they had to. The “sinners” were any who were known to live contrary to God’s holy law, who did not take the Scriptures seriously.
These were the people Jesus was spending time with, and the Pharisees and the scribes noticed. The Pharisees and scribes were very serious about the law. They thoroughly studied God’s commands and thought they had done a good job at keeping them. They were offended to see Jesus visiting with such bad people: “This Man receives sinners and eats with them,” they grumbled.
So then Jesus told them about the hundred sheep, and how one of them wandered off. The shepherd goes searching for that sheep to rescue it from danger and bring it home safely. Then He told them about ten silver coins, and how a woman looks all over the house for one that was lost until she finds it. And what was His point? “[T]here will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
His purpose in visiting with the “tax collectors and sinners” was to lead them to repentance. It was not to confirm them in their sin. So many today get this wrong about Jesus. They point to the company He kept and say, “See! This shows that Jesus does not judge people for their sins! He supports them! He accepts them just the way they are!” But that is not what Jesus was doing. He was not encouraging them to continue in their sins. He was gently and patiently leading them to understand how they had gone wrong, and He was calling them to receive His grace and forgiveness for all their sins.
This is not how the scribes and Pharisees dealt with the tax collectors and sinners. They shunned them. They looked down their noses at them. They saw them as hopeless cases. God does not see sinners this way. He does not see them as a lost cause. But He does say that all of us are lost by nature. All of us need to be sought out and found by Him because all of us have broken His law and are trapped in our sins. There is no person alive today who has no need to repent.
We have not even come close to keeping the law of God. There are only ten Commandments, and we have violated each Commandment over and over again. We can tell ourselves that we can do whatever we please—we don’t have to answer to anyone. But a coin doesn’t really block out the sun. And our bravado and our pride doesn’t really make us bigger than God.
As many times bigger as the sun is to a coin, God is infinitely bigger than us. He could crush us just as easily as we could crush a tiny bug with our foot. But He is not interested in destroying us. God the Father sent His only Son to save us. He sent Him down to us from the highest heavens, all the way down to our lowly earth. God’s Son took on our flesh. He was an embryo in the virgin Mary’s womb. He developed and grew and was born a little baby in a little town.
When He grew up and reached adulthood, He began to gather the lost sheep and the lost coins through His preaching and teaching. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He said (Mat. 4:17). A Savior had come! A Savior for sinners! A Savior for you! Jesus did not sin. He did not take the wrong path. He did not do anything He regretted. He lived a perfect life under the law, so He could credit that perfection to you.
And He took all your sins on Himself, all the sins of the whole world, and He took them to the cross. There He suffered and died for every sin. There He made complete payment for your sins by shedding His holy blood. He did this because He was not content to lose even one sheep or one coin. He was not content to lose you.
This great Savior, our great Lord, sees you. He knows the sins that trouble your conscience. He knows the guilt that burdens you. He sees the sin that stains you. And He forgives it all. He does not turn you away because you are not good enough for Him. He takes away your sin and covers you in His righteousness, so you are good enough. You have everything you need to get to heaven because Jesus has freely provided all of it.
You are far below God by nature. You are a tiny speck of dust in His kingdom. But He loves you. He lifts you out of the dirt and despair of your sins, and He gives you a share in His glory and a place at His side. You may be just a small part of this vast universe, but you are not small to Him. You may be insignificant in the world, but You Matter to Him.
And if you matter to the God who reigns over heaven and hell, over life and death, and if He promises you life with Him for all eternity, then that’s all that matters.
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 Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who mercifully invites us to partake of His great riches of salvation and life both now and forever, dear fellow redeemed:
I think it’s probably more fun to watch game shows than to take part in them. When you are simply a viewer, you don’t feel the pressure the contestants do. You can sit on your couch and second guess the decisions they make. You can question their mental abilities. You can think how you would have played it safe when they took chances, or how you would have taken chances when they played it safe. It’s easy to be an expert about these things when you have nothing on the line.
But suppose you were taking part in a game show, and you could see the prize behind door number one but not behind door number two. In one contest, the prize behind door number one is a new truck. In another, the prize is a new house. In another, the prize is a new plot of tillable land. And in each case, the contestants are assured that the prize behind door number two is even more valuable. Do you turn your back on door number one for a chance to open door number two?
We could understand if the contestants went with the prizes they could see. The prizes behind door number one are good prizes! But what if the host told the contestants that while the prizes behind door number one will last for a while and be useful for a while, the prizes behind door number two have eternal benefits? Would you go for the prize you can see and know what to do with, or for the prize you cannot see or comprehend?
Or let’s put it this way: The prizes behind door number one are things for our earthly life only. The prizes behind door number two are things for our spiritual life, both now and forever. Which is the better prize? Many choose the earthly things like the men did in Jesus’ parable. One man excused himself from the great banquet because he wanted to go check out a new field. Another man excused himself because he had to try out his new oxen. Another excused himself because he had a new wife.
Possessions—work—family—all of them are blessings from God. But none of these physical blessings should take priority over God’s spiritual blessings. Is a new truck better than the forgiveness of sins? Is family better than the faith that saves? Is temporarily owning land better than the eternal inheritance stored up for us in heaven?
Of course these earthly blessings are not better, but we can see them. And the things we can see have a powerful effect on us. We imagine the invitees to the great banquet wondering to themselves if it would really be all that “great.” “What if the banquet is boring? What if the food isn’t that good? What if I don’t like the company? Better to stick with what I know I like.” They figured they had more to lose in attending the banquet than they did in staying home.
But the great banquet that Jesus talks about is no common event with common goods. It is a feast of the richest of foods, foods that never make you feel uneasy or unfilled, foods that you never grow tired of eating. The great banquet is the feast of salvation which God invites sinners to partake of. He invites them to exchange their dirty rags with the wedding garments of righteousness, to be His honored guests at the head table, and to enjoy all the rich gifts He has to offer.
The Lord expects nothing of His guests except that they take His invitation seriously. Jesus’ parable shows clearly that the Lord does not choose the brightest and best and wealthiest and most impressive for His kingdom. He chooses “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” anyone who can be found no matter their condition, no matter their station in life. He desires to fill His house, and He welcomes every sort.
The guests that attend the banquet may come from different areas and speak different languages. They may have very different backgrounds and customs. But they all have one thing in common: they are all sinners. The great banquet is for sinners. If you are not a sinner, you can ignore this invitation. If you are not a sinner, you can go your merry way. But if you are a sinner, you cannot ignore the Lord’s invitation. You cannot let anything keep you from attending the feast.
If your favorite singer personally sent you front row tickets to his concert and money for travel, you would do whatever you had to do to get there. If your favorite football team gave you tickets on the fifty yard line, you would be at that game. How much more important, then, to listen to God when He warmly invites you to the banquet of salvation!
The table has been set and the meal has been prepared for you. Each one of you is God’s honored guest. Each one of you has been chosen for salvation by His grace. Your salvation was secured when Jesus fulfilled the holy Law for you and died on the cross for your sins. Then He rose on the third day destroying the claim that death had on you.
This victory over sin and death is served up every time you listen to God’s Word and partake of His Sacraments. Jesus is the Food of this feast. You receive His righteousness, forgiveness, and life whenever you hear the promise of the Gospel and trust that God intends it for you. You taste His grace when you eat His body and drink His blood in His Holy Supper. Jesus is the Food, and you need to fill up!
But it isn’t enough just to come to church. If you are coming just to keep up appearances, if you are coming just to show people how good you are, then you might as well stay home. If all you can think about is how boring this banquet is, or how bland the food, or how little you like the company around you, then you can sit alone at home in your pajamas and rule over your own little kingdom with an easy chair as your throne and a smart phone or remote control as your scepter.
But if you know what you are to the depths of your heart—a sinner—, if you recognize how little you deserve the Lord’s invitation to salvation, if you can see that you have nothing good—nothing worth having—apart from your merciful Savior, then you are in the right place. You are in the place where Jesus promises to meet you. He is the one who died for you. He is the one who rose again from the dead for you. He is the one who is seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling over all things for your good.
He is here to forgive your sins, to take them away as far as the east is from the west. He is here to strengthen your faith, so that you are not tempted away by the treasures of the world. He is here to comfort you in your trials and to give you courage to confess His saving name. Jesus is here, and He invites you to have everything that is His.
Why is the Lord so good to you? That’s what the “poor and crippled and blind and lame” wondered, the ones living in the back alleys and the back woods. Why should they be invited to a great banquet? The first guests who were invited thought they were better than the master and his banquet. They thought they were above him. The guests who actually attended knew they didn’t deserve such attention and riches. They could not imagine that a seat at the table was reserved for them. They had to be compelled to come.
You also must be compelled to come to the Lord’s banquet. You wouldn’t attend on your own. You know you don’t deserve it. You know all your sins which should disqualify you from being in His holy company. But the Holy Spirit comes through God’s Word of promise and works faith in your heart to believe that His promises are intended for you.
The Holy Spirit comes announcing your invitation to the banquet. When you hesitate about it or doubt it, He repeats the promise and keeps repeating it: “The Master expects you. Your seat is reserved. The food is prepared. Everything is now ready. Come!” “But no,” you say, “it can’t be. There must be some mistake.” So He peels open your fingers, and He presses into your hand the invitation to the banquet with your name on it. “At your Baptism, your name was officially registered on the guest list,” He says. “You are supposed to be at the great banquet. You belong there now, and your place is secure there forever.”
Without the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word, we would ignore God’s invitation. We would stick with door number one, the treasures of this world that pass away. We would never see the great riches behind door number two, the treasures of heaven which God gives to all who trust in Him.
To receive and retain these great riches, you have to be willing to walk away from some things that appear to be good. You may have to walk away from opportunities that would lead to more success and more glory on earth. But those things are not as grand as they seem. They are only temporary.
The riches that the Lord has stored up for you are far more and far better. He gives them to you now in abundance through His Word and Sacraments, and through them, He prepares you for the celebration to come when you join Him in great feasting and rejoicing in His glorious kingdom.
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(woodcut of the poor, the blind, and the lame being invited to the banquet from the 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who in mercy brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Luk. 1:52-53), dear fellow redeemed:
In some places, you would hardly go a day without seeing a homeless person. In our communities, you might not see one in a calendar year. When you do happen to see one, what is your gut reaction? Is it disgust? Compassion? Curiosity? You probably find it hard to imagine how the person got to be in that situation. Isn’t there some family member or friend who could help them? Couldn’t they just get a job?
The solution to homelessness is hardly ever so simple. We can’t tell by looking at them what is in their past, what difficulties they might have experienced. Their homelessness might be self-inflicted due to poor choices they have made or even from laziness. Or they may be victims of circumstances outside of their control, like terrible mistreatment by others or serious mental illness.
From the information we have about Lazarus, we don’t know how he became a beggar. It could very well have been a mixture of wrongs done by others along with poor choices he had made. When we are introduced to him, he had already lost everything—a home, personal possessions, and good health.
We can picture him, skin and bones, dressed in rags, flies buzzing around, Lazarus groaning, hardly able to lift his face or an empty hand, dogs sniffing him and licking his sores. The best that he could hope for, the thing that filled his thoughts every day, was the possibility of table scraps. The rich man didn’t need those, Lazarus wouldn’t be any trouble, just let him have a little of what was heading for the landfill.
The status and appearance of the rich man was exactly the opposite. He was healthy, lots of meat on his bones, clothed in purple and fine linen, more than enough food, plenty of friends and admirers, thoughts filled with parties and pleasures. People wanted to know him. They wanted his attention. They wanted to be like him. He was the guy you hoped to see at a fundraiser, the guy you wanted on the board of directors. The rich man mattered. The beggar did not matter.
But then something happened, something that put the beggar and the rich man on exactly the same level. That something does not care if a person is homeless or lives in a mansion, if he has mere pennies or millions of dollars. That something is death. No one can escape it. No amount of money can buy one’s way out of it. Lazarus might have died sooner than the rich man, but both of them died.
Some people might hear this and say, “It is true that death comes to everyone, but as long as we are here, we would rather live rich than poor!” So their whole focus in this life is gathering and growing, more things, nicer things, fun and games, parties and pleasures. Jesus told a parable about this, about a rich farmer who was so successful that he decided to do nothing but “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luk. 12:19). He did not give thanks to God. He did not think about the needs of his neighbor. He thought only about himself. And God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20).
If we live only for the riches of this life, we might look impressive to the people around us—they might know our name—, but we really have nothing, nothing that matters. This is the central thought in today’s text. Everything is backward from how it appears. The wealthy one wasn’t really the rich man, it was Lazarus. The rich man appeared to have it all but lost everything he valued. The beggar appeared to have nothing but gained greater riches than this world can comprehend.
What was it that reversed their fortunes so completely? The difference was faith. Lazarus believed that even though he had nothing, even though he suffered, God still loved him and would take him to heaven by His grace. The rich man had no time for God, or if he mentioned God, it was only lip-service. He may have talked about “being blessed,” and “having God smile upon him,” but he really thought he was the master of his own success. He had everything he wanted—what more could he need from God?
The rich man was actually a beggar, but he didn’t know it. This is the fatal error that so many still make today. We are all beggars—all of us rich and poor, powerful and weak—every single one of us is a nobody and we have nothing apart from the merciful Lord. We need the spiritual gifts that only God can give us. And He wants to give them—He is eager to give them. How does He give them? It’s through “Moses and the Prophets.”
“Moses and the Prophets” is a shorthand way of talking about the entire Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written down yet, so “Moses and the Prophets” referred to the whole of the inspired Word of God that the people had access to. That means they had the Law of God which revealed their sinfulness. And they had the clear promise of salvation through the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Through this powerful Word, the Holy Spirit worked repentance and faith. He opened people’s eyes to recognize how far they had fallen away from God, and also to see His ongoing love and compassion toward them. This is how Lazarus came to possess everything spiritually though he had nothing physically. Whatever the reasons for his homelessness, he repented of his sins and trusted in his Savior. His stomach was empty, but his heart was full, full of faith, full of hope, full of love.
He had more than meets the eye. And the same is true for you. You may not have much that catches people’s attention. You might not wear the latest styles of clothing or have a very nice house. You may not be well-known or well-respected. Your best might never seem good enough. The fact is, you are just a temporary inhabitant of this world. You will come and go, and sooner or later your name will be forgotten.
The world will forget your name, but God does not. Ancient history books have no record of the beggar Lazarus whom we hear about in today’s Gospel reading, but God knew him. His name was recorded in the Book of Life. So is yours. Your name is written there because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, poured out His blood to pay for your sins.
Your spiritual poverty was no one’s fault but your own. And Jesus took all your sins on Himself, all your filthy rags of unrighteousness, and He suffered and died in your place. Like Lazarus, He was put outside the gate. He was covered in painful wounds, bleeding, naked, nothing to satisfy His thirst, surrounded by dogs (Psa. 22:16), no one showing mercy. He did that for you, so that you would have a seat at the Master’s table, clothed in brilliant attire, eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
Jesus completely reversed your fortunes. You deserve what the rich man ended up with—eternal torment in hell. Instead you have what Lazarus received—life in the holy name of Jesus. You were dressed in the rags of your own works that could not hide your sins. Now through Holy Baptism, you are clothed in the garments of Jesus’ righteousness. You were hungry for forgiveness and peace with God, unable to come into His presence. Now through Holy Communion, Jesus comes to you and gives you His own holy body and cleansing blood for the remission of your sins.
You, my fellow beggars, are rich—rich beyond compare! You have everything you need for eternal life in heaven. But what if you don’t feel rich? What if the weight of the bad things you have done keeps getting heavier and heavier? What if you can’t shake the burden of guilt over the pain you have caused, the people you have hurt? What if your sins are more than meets the eye, way more than anybody else knows about? God knows about them. He knows all the reasons you are not worthy to stand before Him or receive His grace.
But He has also put me here to speak these words, and He has brought you here to listen to them. The words I am called to speak are these: Your sins are forgiven. You are no longer separated from God. He is not angry with you. He has redeemed you. He paid the price for your soul, because He wants you to spend eternity with Him in His bright kingdom. All of your sins have been erased from your record by the blood of Jesus. You might still remember them, others might know them, but God does not see them anymore.
You are no longer a beggar with nothing. You are a child of God who has everything. You have a Father in heaven who loves you so deeply that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to save you. You have a Savior who is so gracious toward you that He wants you to have everything that is His, everything that He obtained by His own tears, sweat, and blood. You have the Holy Spirit who comes to you through the Word of God filling you with comfort, hope, and peace.
You Have More Than Meets the Eye. You don’t need what the rich man had. You need what Lazarus had. And you do have it by the grace of God. Through Moses and the Prophets, through the Evangelists and the Apostles, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have faith in Jesus, who made Himself nothing for your sake (Phi. 2:7), “so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
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(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15
In Christ Jesus, who comforts us in our fears with the sure hope of salvation and eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
A struggling economy. An unemployment rate in double figures. Plummeting crop prices. Unrest all across the country. This was the setting in 1933 when President Roosevelt gave his inaugural address. In the very first paragraph, he spoke words that have been repeated many times since: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He said that the collective fear of the population is a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
He was on to something. He recognized that fear is not a thing we are made to feel or experience. It does not come at us from the outside; it wells up inside us. So for example, spiders or snakes do not possess the power to make you afraid. This is clear from the fact that not everyone is afraid of spiders or snakes. Those who are afraid of them don’t like the way they crawl or slither. They don’t like coming across them unprepared. But ultimately, these animals are just a very small part of God’s vast creation.
Sometimes our fears developed from a traumatic experience in our youth. This may explain the fear people have of going to the dentist or of sleeping without a light on. But dentists are not inherently bad, and the darkness of night does not mean you are unsafe. This is all clear enough in the daylight with no dentist’s chair, snake, or spider present. But that doesn’t stop us from being afraid when we do face these things.
We have other fears these days, some of the same ones that were on people’s minds during the Great Depression. The economy is struggling. People are out of work. Demonstrations and riots are taking place across the country. A virus is spreading. There seem to be more questions at hand than answers. It won’t do to have someone tell us to just stop being afraid. Fear is not something we can turn on and off like a light switch.
But it is possible to redirect our fear. This is very important today when fear threatens to overwhelm both us and the people in our communities. Fear can make us do irrational and harmful things. Have you ever injured yourself in an attempt to destroy a tiny spider? The effort probably did not match the enemy. Fear can make us overreact to perceived threats around us. If others will not share our fear, it is easy to go on the attack—turn our backs on them, demonize them, maybe even physically harm them or hope for something bad to happen to them.
The apostle Peter urges a different approach in the Spirit-inspired words of today’s text. He calls on us to seek unity, to be sympathetic, to love others like they are members of your family, to have compassion, to be humble. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling,” he writes, “but on the contrary, bless.” Your neighbor is not your enemy. You are not called to fight him but to love him.
This of course is not easy. When we have been wronged, we don’t want to let someone off too easily. If we do, we are afraid that we will be wronged again. Or if we try to build bridges and make amends, we are afraid that our attempts will be rejected and our kindness thrown back in our face. But what we are afraid of more than anything is looking weak, taking the humble path, swallowing our pride, submitting to one another. This is difficult and even painful. Why should we have to do this?
We show love to our neighbors because it is right. It is the will of God, and His will is perfect. We are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18). God has the authority to demand this of us because He is the only God. His First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” This means that “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s explanation).
But what exactly does it mean to fear God? It means to fear His punishment if we sin against Him. This fear causes us to do one of two things. The first is to try to hide from Him like Adam and Eve tried to do. But as they learned, there is no way to hide from God. Peter attempted something like this when Jesus gave him and the other fishermen the great catch of fish. Seeing what had happened, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luk. 5:8). Peter’s sin made him want to escape the Lord’s presence.
But the better way to deal with the fear of God’s punishment is to repent of our sins, to kneel before Him and put ourselves in His mercy. We might be able to hide our sins from others, but we cannot hide them from God. He already knows them, and He will have justice. He does not play games. The author of Hebrews writes that “[i]t is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). It would be terrifying to stand before Him without repentance and faith. Then all our sins would be brought up against us and held against us.
This is why He wants us to repent, repent of our lack of trust in Him, repent of our lack of love toward our neighbor, repent of our fearing so many things around us, but hardly fearing Him. And what does He do when we lay our hearts and minds open before Him? By admitting our wrongs, don’t we acknowledge that He has the right to punish us?
He does have that right, but He does not send His wrath upon the repentant. He gives His grace. Look how the Lord dealt with Peter. Peter had just admitted his sinfulness. He was terrified to be in the presence of the holy God and begged Jesus to leave. And the next words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “Do not be afraid” (Luk. 5:10).
This is how the Lord deals with each one of us. We have sinned against Him in so many ways, and He knows it! But His response is not to take revenge. It is not to demonize us or seek to harm us. His response is forgiveness. Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid of God’s wrath anymore because I took that righteous punishment for you. Do not be afraid that your Father in heaven will turn His back on you because He turned His back on Me instead. Do not be afraid of suffering in hell for your sins because I suffered hell for your sins.”
Because of what Jesus did, you are reconciled to God. He is not your enemy. He loves you. He seeks your good. Quoting Psalm 34, Peter writes that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer.” God considers you righteous because you trust in His holy Son. His ears are wide open to you. He wants to hear your fears. He wants you to turn them over to Him—fears about your relationships, fears about your finances, fears about the future, fears about your health and life.
The Lord promises that He will not abandon you to these fears. He will not leave you even if the whole world turns against you. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” asks Peter. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” You are blessed in your suffering because the Lord is with you, and no evil can prevail against Him. The victory is already His over sin and death, world and devil. And that victory is yours by faith in your Savior Jesus.
You and I cannot control what may happen to us today or tomorrow or the next day. That can make us feel afraid; we like to be in control. But it is far better to put our trust in the Lord, to leave our lives in His control. He loves us with an unchanging love. He redeemed our lives by shedding His own precious blood. He graciously called us to faith so that we would become heirs of eternal life and salvation.
“Fear itself,” as President Roosevelt put it, is not the problem as much as what we fear. Our fear should be directed to the Lord alone. He is completely holy and just. He is all-powerful and knows all. He can end the troubles we face in a moment, or He can use them to shape us and to call us and those around us to repentance.
Whatever He does, we know that He does it out of love. Through Jesus our Savior, we do not need to fear His wrath or eternal punishment. The fear that makes us want to run and hide is replaced by the fear that loves Him, respects Him, and wants to “serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Second Article explanation).
So we look to Him in this godly fear, entrusting our lives and our troubles and our futures to Him. And He looks upon us with grace as His own dear children and says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 5:6-11
In Christ Jesus, who will never cast out those who come to Him in faith (Joh. 6:37), dear fellow redeemed:
When you want someone to back up what they say by what they do, you might remind them that “talk is cheap.” In last week’s Epistle lesson, we heard John address this when he wrote, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1Jo. 3:18). So it’s one thing for a person to say, “I care about you,” and it’s another for them to show it. One of the most comforting passages in the Bible is found in today’s text: “[Cast] all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” But How Does God Care for Us?
Our friends show that they care for us by being there when we need them. They listen sympathetically to our problems. They may speak words of encouragement to us, or offer us food and gifts to help us and cheer us up. God also cares for us like this as He joins us in our troubles and listens to our prayers. He shares His Word of encouragement with us, and He constantly provides the things we need for this body and life. But He demonstrates His care for us in even more profound ways than these.
Peter writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that “the God of all grace… has called you to His eternal glory in Christ.” The God of all grace does not punish us for our sins as we deserve. He shows undeserved love and kindness toward us. In His grace He has called us to “eternal glory in Christ.” The “in Christ” is crucial. God did not say, “I know you have broken all My Commandments, but let’s let bygones be bygones. Let’s just forget that that happened. Why don’t you come up here to heaven and enjoy My eternal glory?”
We are called to eternal glory “in Christ.” Eternal glory was won for us by Christ. He won eternal glory by taking the everlasting guilt and punishment for our sin on Himself. This shows us so clearly that God cares for us. God the Father sent His Son to be our Substitute, to pay the price for sin in our place, to die our death, to suffer our hell. Because He did this out of obedience to His Father, “[t]herefore God has highly exalted him” (Phi. 2:9). Now the kingdom and the power and the glory are His both as God and Man.
Our heavenly Father also wants us to have a share of this glory. This is why He has called us to faith in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. We confess that “the Holy Ghost has called [us] by the Gospel” (Third Article of the Creed). He has called us through the message of Christ crucified and risen. When we were converted, the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for us on the cross was applied to us, and His perfect keeping of the Holy Law was credited to us. This means that nothing stands between the believer and eternal glory. Eternal glory is ours already in Christ.
But that is difficult to understand or even to remember when our life on earth is anything but glorious. Peter here clearly acknowledges that we Christians have anxieties, worries, cares. Sometimes we share the same anxieties, such as when flooding or drought affect the whole community, or when economic troubles touch us all. Last March when concerns about a new virus reached us, we collectively felt the anxiety of the unknown. Will we and our loved ones stay healthy? Will we have enough food and supplies? Will we be able to keep our jobs?
When all that was happening, a friend pointed out that the anxiety we felt at that time is something that a portion of the population deals with much or all the time. There are some who live under a cloud of despair, who constantly imagine the worst case scenario, who experience depressive episodes or severe mood swings, who are stuck in addictive behavior, who hardly ever feel happy. For these friends of ours, anxiety and depression and a feeling of worthlessness are often a daily struggle. It can be difficult in these times to believe that God really cares.
And that’s exactly the doubt that the devil wants to plant in our minds. Peter writes that “[y]our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” His aim is to attack and destroy our faith, our hope, and our love. He wants to tear us away from Jesus and the salvation He has won for us. He does this primarily through temptation.
He tempts us to wonder if God cares about us when things are going badly. He tempts us to doubt God’s Word which assures us of our Lord’s care. And if we become convinced that God will not help, the devil tempts us to rely on ourselves to pull ourselves out of the depths and to fix our own deep-rooted problems. This only sends us deeper and deeper down.
The devil may successfully tempt us to doubt God’s care, but he cannot stop God’s care. It is an unchangeable, irreversible truth that God Cares for Us. He has not only “called [us] to His eternal glory in Christ,” which we will fully enjoy in heaven, but He is also with us in our struggles here on earth. Our text says that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace… will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
How does He “restore” us? Psalm 23 tells us that the Good Shepherd restores our soul “in green pastures,” “beside still waters,” and “in paths of righteousness.” Our soul is restored in the life-giving nourishment and in the living waters of our Lord’s Word. Through His Word, our Shepherd meets us with the gifts of His grace. He brings us forgiveness when we have listened to the lies of the devil instead of trusting in Him. He brings us His holiness, so that we can stand free of sin and guilt before our Father in heaven and be judged as righteous on the last day.
Jesus also comes to “confirm” our faith, so we can resist the attacks of our adversary. We who belong to Jesus by faith have Him on our side in the fight against the devil and all evil. The devil wants us to think that we are totally alone in this world, that God does not care for us and neither does anyone else. But we are not alone, not even close. The Lord is with us, and He reminds us that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
We are joined together with all believers in the body of Christ. We face a common enemy, but God has equipped us for the battle, and Jesus leads the charge. No matter what troubles come our way, we cannot lose because we are in Christ, and He conquers all. So He “strengthens” us in this promise of His undying care, and He “establishes” us, gives us a firm footing in His Word, so that nothing can destroy our faith in Him.
These are the concrete ways God shows His care for us. He does not always give us what we ask for or give to us right away. But He certainly still cares. Sometimes in His care, He places a cross on us, not to drive us away from Him but to draw us closer. These crosses remind us that we cannot get along by our own wisdom and strength. We are not in control of the past, the present, or the future. Our life is in the hands of “the God of all grace.” Whatever He does, including humbling us under His “mighty hand,” is for our good. It is because He cares.
So you may cast all your anxieties on Him. He invites you to do this. He can handle anything you throw His way. These burdens are too heavy for you, but they are not too heavy for Him. Jesus carried your sins and the sins of the whole world to the cross. He can bear the daily worries and cares that weigh you down. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).
We find rest in Jesus. We find it by listening to His sure promises in His Word. We find it by receiving His free gifts in His Sacraments. His care for us never falters. His commitment to us never dries up. As long as we have breath, He has blessings to give us through His Word. And when we breathe our last, He has eternal blessings waiting for us in heaven.
God’s talk is not cheap. He sealed the promise of our salvation through the blood of His Son. He showed His care for us not just by saying, but by doing. And He still actively works for our good. He defends us from the constant attacks of the devil, and He delivers us when we have fallen to our knees and can go no further. “[A]t the proper time” He will exalt us, lift us up, and bring us at last to “His eternal glory.”
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(picture from “The Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 3:13-18
In Christ Jesus, who lived a perfect life of love on our behalf, and who continues to inspire and work that love among us, dear fellow redeemed:
The home should be a place of love, kindness, and joy, but it isn’t always so. The people who make up a family are sinners, and sinners like to have things their way. You may remember thinking that you “just can’t live” with that annoying sibling anymore or with those unfair parents. You may have even said to one of them those three terrible, powerful words, “I hate you!” You probably regretted saying that later on and were glad to hear the even more powerful words, “I forgive you! I love you!”
Hatred has no place in the Christian home or in the Christian congregation. Hatred is the aim of the devil. He is eager to incite division, conflict, violence, abuse, and self-centeredness. We see these things raging all around us. God calls His people to do the opposite of these things. He calls us to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32). The Letter to the Galatians outlines “the fruit of the Spirit” in the life of the Christian, the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23).
But our lives as Christians don’t always look so fruitful. Just like the unbelievers of the world, we Christians are guilty of sinful stubbornness, hatred, and selfishness. In the broader Christian church, the world is right to point an accusing finger at us. Look at the rampant abuse of power and trust by ministers who are supposed to serve with love and humility. Look at all the congregations that are torn apart by petty disputes among its members. Unbelievers see these things and walk the other way.
But let’s bring it closer to home. Is there anything that visitors might see or hear among us to make them question if we really believe what we say we do? Would they detect that we accept people who are like us while looking down on those who are not? Would they hear us speak harshly or engage in gossip about others? Would they get a warm welcome or a cold shoulder? Would they find humility among us or pride? Cooperation or division?
I suppose they would find a mixture of all these things. We are not perfect. We are just as sinful as any who might walk through those doors. But we must never become comfortable in that sin. Instead of tucking our sin away, trying to cover it up, we expose it to the light of God’s Word. That is no easy thing. It is not fun to have our sins uncovered. It is easy enough to shine the light on the sins of other people. But when that light shines on us, we want to hide our wrongs.
The apostle John writes, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” When we hear “brother,” we think “male sibling.” But here the term is not used for our biological family. It is used for our spiritual family. We are all “brothers,” because we are “all sons of God, through faith” as the Bible says (Gal. 3:26). Through faith, we join Jesus in His position as the Father’s only Son, which means that all the honor and glory the Father bestows on His exalted Son is also given to us.
In this way, every believer in Jesus is totally equal: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We are equally redeemed by God, equally forgiven, equally treasured. Since He loves us this way without distinctions, this is how we should love one another. By our willing and cheerful love toward each other, we show that “we have passed out of death into life.” We are not lost in the devil’s darkness. We are not consumed by hatred. We love as God has loved us.
When one Christian does not love another Christian, this is not justifiable in God’s sight. That does not stop us from trying to justify it. Like the guests in the Holy Gospel for today who had all kinds of excuses why they couldn’t attend the master’s banquet (Luk. 14:16-24), we make excuses for why we don’t have to love our brothers in Christ. Our lack of love sounds like this:
- “How could I possibly love her after what she did to me?”
- “I won’t apologize to him unless he apologizes to me first!”
- “She always has to get her way!”
- “He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”
- “Things would be a lot better around here if they were gone.”
- “I’m not sorry for them—they got what they deserved!”
- “We’ve always done it this way, and if they don’t like it, they can leave!”
- “If they don’t go along with what I think, then I’ll just stop coming!”
These are not statements of love. They are statements of selfishness and pride. If those sins are not exposed to the light, it is only a short step to anger, resentment, and hatred. In God’s view, hatred is murder, and “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” So there must be repentance—a heartfelt recognition of your own failings, a real sorrow over sin. It is easier to see the sins in others, but God’s Law uncovers the sins in your own heart. You are no better than they are, and you may even be worse.
The only one who is justified in holding sins against others is God. He has done wrong to no one. He is perfect. He has the right to condemn us to eternal punishment in hell for breaking His holy Law. But God does not rain His terrors upon us and smash us with the hammer of His justice. He loves us. “God is love” (1Jo. 4:16). God loved the world in this way, “that he gave his only Son” (Joh. 3:16). He gave His only Son to be our ultimate brother.
If God has given you a brother in your family, what are the qualities you like about him? Is he a good listener? Does he often have your back? Is he thoughtful? Funny? Is he someone you can always count on? But along with all the good qualities, I’m sure there are things you do not like about your brother. Maybe he is too stubborn, or he is not assertive enough. Maybe he makes some boneheaded decisions. Maybe he let you down when you were really counting on him.
Jesus is the ultimate brother. He has never failed you, never been too busy for you. You’ve never had to wonder whether He had your best interests in mind. But He has done more than “be there for you.” Every time you disobeyed God’s commands and sinned against Him, Jesus took the fall for you. When the Law like a strict classroom teacher asks, “Who did that? Tell me right now or everyone gets punished!” Jesus raised His hand and said, “I did.”
When you spoke harshly about someone or spread gossip to harm their reputation, Jesus said, “It was Me.” When you became angry and wished harm on another, Jesus said, “I did that.” When you made excuses for why someone in need was not worthy of love, Jesus said, “Put the blame on Me.” When you did not get what you wanted, and you hardened your heart against those God has given you to love, Jesus said, “I’m the guilty one. Take it out on Me.”
And God did. God took out all His righteous anger against sin on His Son. That is why the Lord came down from heaven to be our brother in the flesh. Jesus came to suffer and die for all the wrongs we had done, as though He were the one who did them. He let Himself be condemned and despised in everyone’s place, so He could save all. Because of His sacrifice, we are no longer destined for eternal punishment but for eternal life. That is love! “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us.”
Since He has redeemed us from our hatred and our failure to love, we are now free to love in His name. We are part of His holy body by faith. Our life is hidden in His. So we don’t have to find the motivation and the strength for love inside ourselves. The gap may be too wide between us and another brother. We don’t know how we could possibly bring ourselves to reconcile. But where love is lacking in us, it is not lacking in our Savior.
We find love for others in His love for us and for them. He has died for each of our sins. Jesus has removed the division between us and the Father, and He wants to remove the divisions between us and our brothers. This requires humility and repentance and sacrifice, not just on the part of those opposed to us, but on our part. The Holy Spirit works these things in us through His Word.
He shows us how little we deserve from God, but how incredibly much He has given. He guides us to bring our frustrations and grievances before our dear Father’s throne. He brings us healing and peace through Him who sacrificed everything for us out of love. As Jesus “laid down His life for us,” the Holy Spirit now leads us to “lay down our lives for the brothers.” He leads us to share the abundant goods we have been given with a “brother in need.” He leads us to love not only “in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
We are not bound together with our brothers by our own love. Our love for each other comes from Jesus. Through His holy Word and Sacraments, He fills us again and again with His love, so we have ample love to share with one another. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psa. 133:1), when We Abide Together in Jesus’ Love.
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(woodcut of the poor, the blind, and the lame being invited to the banquet from the 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 4:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who is constantly busy and active distributing the gifts of His love, dear fellow redeemed:
We know why the beggar Lazarus in the Holy Gospel for today was laid at the gate of the rich man. It is because the rich man obviously had the means to help him. But having the means to help and having the desire to help are two different things. The rich man did not care about Lazarus. He cared about his fine linens and his great feasts. This man lacked love. It is no surprise to learn that he also lacked faith. We know this because his soul went to hell when he died.
Faith and love go together. Those who have faith have love for others. Those who do not have faith do not have love for others—at least not the kind of love that God requires. The world is very confused about love. The world thinks of love as a feeling, an emotion, the thing that makes me happy. This love is not so much focused outward toward others but inward toward self. We are told to cultivate a self-love, to focus on what is self-fulfilling. And if someone does not show us the love that we require, then it is time to find another who will.
What if God defined love in this way? What if He said that He will love us only if we properly show love to Him? This is what we would think if all we had was the Law of God. The Commandments tell us to perfectly love the true God only, to perfectly honor His name, to perfectly hear and learn His Word. But we have not loved God like this. So what is stopping Him from walking away and never coming back?
He does not walk away from us, because His love for us does not depend on our love for Him. He loved us even in our fallen and rebellious state. In perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible, the apostle John records these words of Jesus about God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16).
God loved the world not because we had earned His love, as though He owed something to us. He loved the world because He is love. And He expressed that love not by making us as comfortable as He can on earth before our sad and hopeless death. He sent His only Son to redeem us, so that we have hope in this life and are saved from eternal suffering in hell.
This is the love that John refers to in today’s text when he says: “God is love.” Some take this to mean that whoever and however and whatever I choose to love, God supports me. Like a 70s hippie, God just wants us to love, man, and there are no rules or restrictions about that love. But characterizing God’s love in this way is false and blasphemous. God does not approve of our sinful behavior. He does not support the destructive things we do that go against His holy Law.
If the love I have for someone or something does not agree with the Ten Commandments, then it is not the love of God. So it is right for a man and a woman to love each other and want to serve one another. But it is not right for them to express that love in a sexual way until they are married. It is right for two men or two women to have love for each other and work on building their relationship. But it is not right for them to pursue a union of flesh. It is right to admire the nice things one’s neighbor has. But it is not right to covet those things and seek to take them.
It is so important that we recognize this. Some Christians have the idea that as long as they say they believe, then it does not matter how they live their life. They don’t like to be told that “Christians shouldn’t,” or “Christians won’t.” “No one has the right to tell me if I’m a Christian or not,” they say. “I know what I am in my heart.” But what if the rich man had called himself a good Christian? Wouldn’t it be natural to expect him to help the beggar Lazarus as God’s Commandments require? Wouldn’t his inactivity make his personal testimony questionable?
If our life is lacking in the love that God requires, and it is filled with a selfish love which God condemns, that calls our faith into question. Then what we say is totally different than how we act. Let’s say you called yourself a Bears fan, but you wore Packers gear, and you rooted for the Packers even when they played the Bears. Could that cause someone to wonder if you really were a Bears fan?
When that kind of inconsistency shows up in the life of a Christian, between what he says and what he does, this indicates a problem. In that case it would be good and loving for another Christian to warn him about the inconsistency, so that his faith is not lost. Jesus clearly tells us that it is possible to lose faith (Luk. 8:4-15). Faith is more than mere knowledge. It is not just a recitation of the facts given in the Bible. Faith grabs hold of the promises of the Gospel. It clings to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus for our righteousness and forgiveness.
Faith receives what God gives by grace. Faith does not express itself defiantly, as though a believer could never be guilty of a sin. Faith expresses itself in humble repentance for sins committed day after day, and it looks to Jesus for salvation. Only Jesus lived the life of love that God requires. He lived a life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. His life of love is why we are acceptable before the Father. His love is credited to us by faith in Him.
Where faith is alive by the grace of God, it is also active. Faith bears fruit in our lives. It is active in a Godly love. “We love because He first loved us,” writes John. This love for others is not self-serving; it is self-sacrificing. It is not pleasure-seeking; it is service-oriented. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not calloused or insensitive. It is patient and kind and generous and forgiving. That is the love God has for us, and it is the love He calls us to have for each other.
But we have not loved in this way, not always. We can all look back (and we don’t have to look very far) to see where we have failed to love like we should. So how confident can we be on the day of judgment? Will we stand before God and say that we loved as He loved us? John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Are you afraid to give an account before God of how you have loved? Are you afraid of His punishment?
The blessed truth is that we will not be judged on the last day by what we have done or failed to do. We will be judged by what Jesus did. His perfect life of love is credited to us by faith. In this way, we are just like a beggar. When a humble beggar receives a gift, he does not think about how well he has begged or how worthy he is to get something. He is simply grateful to receive. He recognizes that he has been given something that he did not have before and had no ability to get.
This is what God has done for us. He has brought to us the perfect work of Jesus—His holy life, His atoning death, His great resurrection. He doesn’t wait for us to prove our worth before He will give it. He reaches down to us through His Word and Sacraments, peels open our sin-clenched hands, and gives us blessing after blessing. He did this for the beggar Lazarus, and He does it for us. He gives us such abundant riches that there is more than enough to share with others.
Suppose someone handed a beggar a million dollars. Wouldn’t it seem harsh if he turned up his nose at his fellow beggar friends and kept his newfound wealth all to himself? In the same way, since we have received such great riches from God, why would we keep them to ourselves? How could we gratefully receive His love, but not want to show love to those around us? A faith that is alive and well by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word cannot help but extend love to others.
This is what you are prepared for in church each week. You come here to be filled up with the love of God. You come to have your bag of faith resupplied. You are filled with God’s forgiveness, His courage, His peace, and His strength. You leave here spiritually rejuvenated, blessed. Having received these gifts, your faith is ready for action. Now you see one neighbor lonely, another sad, another in pain, another racked by guilt. You know what they need. They need the love of God in Christ. So you show your love by listening to them, by caring for them, and especially by pointing them to Jesus and the undying love He has for all.
A Living Faith Is Active in Love. Your faith is alive because it is fixed on Jesus, and Jesus is most certainly alive. And because your faith is alive, it is active in love. The love you show does not have to come from some source or supply of love inside you. That kind of love often runs out. But the perfect love of your Lord for you and for others is never exhausted. As you continue to draw on His love by faith, you will never be without love for your neighbors.
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(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Festival of the Holy Trinity & Saude Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 11:33-36
In Christ Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit are worthy of eternal honor, thanks, and praise, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Alex, Avery, Layton, and Will on your Confirmation Day:
Over the last few months, the letters “SGN” have entered our vocabulary. These three letters stand for “Some Good News,” an impromptu internet show highlighting positive things happening in our country. Hundreds of years before this, the composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the three letters “SDG” on his musical manuscripts. The letters “SDG” come from the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” which is translated: To God Alone Be the Glory! So Bach, who is perhaps the greatest composer of all time (and a Lutheran by the way), wanted any glory for his achievements to go to God.
How about you? How willing would you be to put this message on the major things you accomplish? When you graduate, get a promotion, land a big contract, or are recognized for a major success, you say: To God Alone Be the Glory! How about you confirmands on this big day? Does God get the credit for everything you’ve done?
The thing is, we know how much hard work goes into the major accomplishments of our life. Shouldn’t we get some credit for these things? Even Bach must have enjoyed the accolades from those who heard his music. He must have recognized that he was producing music at a higher level than many who had come before him. So did he really mean “Soli Deo Gloria,” To God Alone Be the Glory! Or was it just an expression to make him seem more humble than he actually was?
Well that’s the struggle, isn’t it? In the big picture, we have nothing to boast about before God. He is our Creator. The universe we live in would not exist apart from Him. He made it, and He keeps it going. More personally, you and I would not exist if God had not granted us life in our mothers’ wombs. He also sustains our life. We could not accomplish much if God did not make the food grow that we eat. And what about the sun that warms us, the rain that refreshes us, the air that we breathe? When we take all these things for granted, it is easy to think we are the masters of our environment and our fate.
But if our power and abilities could fill an ice cube tray, God’s power and abilities fill the earth’s deepest trench, and then some. There is no comparison between us. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to express this difference in the words of today’s text: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” When it comes down to it, none of us has come up with one good deed, one good word, or one good thought that did not originate with God. We are copycats—and we’re not even very good ones!
Ask yourself this: What useful thing do you have that did not start with God? You would not have a house, a car, clothes, food, or any other thing without the raw materials God provides in creation. We cannot make something out of nothing. Only God can do that. And yet even though all “riches and wisdom and knowledge” come from Him, we think we can outdo Him.
We presume to know what God is thinking where He is silent in the Bible. So for example, when there seems to be a logical gap in the question of why some are saved but not others, we supply what is missing with our reason. We say that those who are saved must be a little bit better than those who are not, or that God is waiting for us to show an interest in Him. These may be reasonable explanations, but they also contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, that we are unable to go to God because of our sin. He must come all the way to us and save us.
Or we try to advise God about what He should have said more carefully in the Bible, so that no one feels judged or left out. Or we expect Him to do what we want, when we want Him to. But we are not God. We are far below Him. Paul emphasizes this by quoting from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Job: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” (Isa. 40:13, Job 41:11).
Then he writes, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” It is no mistake that Paul uses three prepositions to describe the Lord’s work: “from,” “through,” and “to.” He also spoke about God’s “riches and wisdom and knowledge”—three things. This use of three is by design, because the one God consists of three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The work of each Person is emphasized here in this text.
All things come to us from God the Father. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He made and continues to produce all the riches we see around us. We notice this especially in springtime, when our fields and gardens fill with growing green plants, and the flowers and leaves emerge again after the wintertime. But an even greater gift has come to us from the Father. He has given us His only Son to save us. This is where we see the exceedingly deep love that the Father has for us. Martin Luther wrote in one of his hymns: “He gave His dearest Treasure” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #378, v. 4).
All these riches from the Father come to us through God the Son. The book of Proverbs describes the Son as God’s Wisdom, who was with the Father “before the beginning of the earth” (Pro. 8:22). He fully participated with the Father in creation. “[A]ll things were made through Him” (Joh. 1:3). Any physical life that exists or could exist came through Him. The same is true of our spiritual life. We could have no spiritual life apart from His suffering and death in our place. Forgiveness and life and salvation come through Him and through Him alone.
These many blessings we have from the Father and through the Son lead us to look to the Lord in confidence and thanksgiving by the power of God the Holy Spirit. He brings us the saving knowledge of the true God through the holy Word. Without the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word, we would not know the Son or the Father. He has enlightened our minds and hearts. He has revealed the “secret and hidden wisdom of God,” the deep things about our salvation through Jesus (1Co. 2:7ff.). He strengthens the faith He has given, so that we are drawn closer and closer to the Holy God and our eternity with Him.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” That means that the glory for all things belongs to Him, (including all those long hours of study in Catechism Class). Every good thing we have and accomplish comes to us by the power and grace of our merciful God. He does not have to bless us, as though He owes it to us. “[W]ho has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” But He loves us with a love that is so broad and long and high and deep that it cannot be measured.
He loves to supply all the things we need. In our spiritual poverty, foolishness, and ignorance, God provides His riches, wisdom, and knowledge. Where we have amassed a debt of sin before Him—all those times in life that we failed to spend ourselves in righteousness—He does not gives us the wages for our sin. He gives us the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Since the time we became believers, we have been credited with Jesus’ perfect life. When God the Father looks at us, He does not see our failures anymore; He sees us filled with the good works of Jesus.
All of this is foolishness to the world, and sometimes it may seem foolish to us. How could all of our sins and misdeeds be taken away just like that? The world is not impressed by grace; the world respects money and power and human ingenuity and fame. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1Co. 1:27). Our boasting is not in what we might accomplish, but in Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30).
This knowledge of our salvation through Jesus is imparted to us and grows in us every time we hear the saving Word and partake of the Sacraments Jesus instituted. We rejoice that our confirmands will now join us at the Communion rail to eat and drink the true body and blood of Jesus for their forgiveness and strengthening. This is not the day that our confirmands “graduate” from studying God’s Word. They are just getting started. They have a lifetime ahead of them to continue to gain “the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” The same is true for each and every one of us here. God never grows tired of giving us His gifts through His Holy Word.
What the Triune God has done and still does for us is “SGN”—“Some Good News.” We are His dear children. He has not given us what we deserved. He has given us everything by grace and given it in abundance. For this reason, we give thanks to His name. Like J. S. Bach, we write “SDG” on the manuscript of our lives: “Soli Deo Gloria.” The glory for all the good that we have and do is His alone, and His for all eternity.
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