The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who by the power of His Word “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), dear fellow redeemed:
About the middle of this past week when I was attending our church camp with the youth, Kristin asked me if my time there seemed like work or like a getaway. As much as I enjoy camp—and we do have a good time—I told her that we pastors stay very busy with teaching, preaching, and chaperoning. And it’s not always clear what effect our efforts have. Do the campers leave camp with a clearer understanding of Law and Gospel? Have they grown in their faith? Has their love for God and for each other increased? Those things are difficult to measure.
We live in a results-driven society where everything gets measured. The success of a sports franchise is determined by how many titles it has won. Businesses are constantly doing cost and profit analyses to find their way in the market. Individuals are judged by their grades and their personal accomplishments. Even churches fall into the “results” trap and measure the effectiveness of their mission by their attendance totals or by how significant their financial holdings are.
Judged by this kind of standard, we would conclude that Simon, James, and John were not the greatest fishermen. They worked all through the night and didn’t catch a thing. What was the problem? Were their methods faulty? Had they chosen the wrong parts of the lake? Did they try at the wrong time? What exactly was keeping them from success?
But the message of today’s Gospel is not a tutorial from Jesus about how to maximize one’s success at fishing or anything else. The message is that no matter what skill and effort we might apply in our work, no matter what plans we make and what success we have had in the past, we cannot accomplish anything good apart from God’s mercy and the blessing of His Word.
The fishermen hadn’t done anything wrong in their approach to catching fish. They had been fishing for a long time, probably since they were kids. They wouldn’t stay up all night fishing unless they felt confident that the fish they would catch would outweigh the lack of sleep. They couldn’t explain why their nets came up empty. For whatever reason, the fish just weren’t there. They must have felt frustrated as they cleaned their nets on the shore. And tired.
But then something happened to take their attention away from their troubles. A great crowd had gathered on the lake shore. The people were listening to Jesus, that prophet from Nazareth, whom John the Baptizer identified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1:29). Everyone wanted to hear Jesus and get a good look at Him, so they pressed toward Him. It was similar to how people act around a famous person today, all crowding in to get a picture or an autograph.
Jesus decided that a change was needed, so the people could focus on His Word and not on how close they could get to Him. He saw fishing boats on the shore and asked Simon to take Him out a little ways. From His place in the boat, He continued teaching with Simon sitting there listening. When He was done speaking, He told Simon to row to a deeper part of the lake and let down his nets for a catch.
Conventional wisdom said that if the fish couldn’t be caught the previous night, they certainly couldn’t be caught that day. Simon said to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he had been listening to what Jesus was saying that morning. He recognized that Jesus was a prophet of some sort. “[A]t Your word I will let down the nets,” he said.
He was shocked to see the fish swarming, the nets breaking, and the boats filling. Simon cast out the nets just as he had the night before. The method hadn’t changed. But now he had an abundance of fish whereas before he had none. What was the difference? The difference was the Word of Jesus. Jesus spoke the Word, and He gave the increase. Jesus gave success to Simon. Jesus put fish in the boats.
This should teach us to put our trust in the Lord’s Word. Look at what His Word accomplished! It moved the disciples to action even after their previous efforts had failed. It filled the nets that before had come up empty. And it caused them to leave behind their historic haul of fish to follow Jesus. His Word continues to do amazing things like these each and every day. The problem is that we don’t recognize the hand God has in supplying our daily needs and giving us success.
We imagine that our work succeeds because of how gifted we are and because of how hard we try. “Look at what I have accomplished,” we think. “Look at what my hands have built.” But if we take all the glory for our successes, don’t we deserve all the blame for our failures? That’s not often how it goes. We are glad to receive praise for the good things, but we quickly pass the blame for the bad things.
Or maybe we do see our failure in earthly things as proof that we are no good. We imagine that God frowns on us and that He must be punishing us. We approach our work with a defeatist attitude. “Why should I even try? It isn’t going to work anyway. If it failed once, it will certainly fail again.”
Both of those perspectives are sinful—the idea that everything good we have is a result of our efforts, and the idea that we’re better off not trying anymore when we have failed. Simon was right to fall down before Jesus and acknowledge his sins. Each of us should do the same. We should recognize and acknowledge every day that we are sinners.
When our prideful or despairing hearts have been pierced by the Law of God, the difference between His holiness and our sinfulness couldn’t be more obvious. We see that even our best moments in life did not put us close to the glory of God. The thought that we could ever be good enough to get ourselves to heaven is an outright lie of the devil, and it destroys saving faith.
Simon had just pulled in the greatest catch of fish that he had ever seen, but when he realized what had happened, his eyes shifted to Jesus. And when he saw Jesus, he felt as though all his sins were laid bare before the almighty God. He wanted to hide. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” he said. “I am not worthy to be in Your presence. I am not worthy to receive Your gifts.”
Simon was right about that. But Jesus did not leave him. He said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Simon did not have to fear the wrath of God. Jesus had come to save sinners. He had come to atone for Simon’s sins and to give Simon special work—the work of preaching the Word of Jesus. Jesus’ Word which had filled Simon’s nets with fish would also fill God’s nets with repentant believers.
This is a net you want to be caught in, and which you are in through the saving Word. You were lost in the darkness, living without hope or a purpose like so many in the world today. And God drew you to Himself with the net of His Word. He called you out of darkness. He brought you forgiveness and life in the calm waters of Baptism. He claimed you as His own, and He still claims you.
But as you look back through your life, you know how much time you have wasted in pursuing your own plans. You know how prideful you have been when you have done well, and how you have failed to give glory to God for your success. And you know how easily you have given up when everything didn’t work out just the way you wanted. What kind of servant are you in the Lord’s kingdom? Why should He look kindly upon you? You can understand why Simon said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; I forgive you all your sins. I died and rose again for you. I will not depart from you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” His Word of grace restores you. It lifts you out of your sin and despair. It shifts your focus from the gifts to the Giver, from your successes to your Savior, from the nets full of blessings to the One who fills them.
And when you recognize that The Word of God Gives the Increase, then you are ready for the work He has called you to do. You are ready to give your best to your family and your employer, knowing that God has called you to these vocations and will bless your efforts. You are ready to work humbly, knowing that you do not deserve either the opportunities you have or the success.
All the good things you have in this life and in the life to come are from the powerful Word of God. The Word He has spoken makes the sun shine, the rain fall, and the plants grow. His Word brought about your existence through the union of your parents and keeps you going. His Word gives life all around the world. Hebrews 1 says that the Son of God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). And His Word brought the light of faith to your heart and makes your faith strong.
The Word of God can do what we consider impossible. It works even when the conditions don’t seem right and conventional wisdom says it will fall flat. The Word changes hearts. It comforts consciences. It is always effective. That means as the Word continues to be in your ears, in your mind, and in your heart, God will bring blessings in all that you do.
These blessings are not measurable according to the standards of the world. God’s Word may not appear to make much difference. But God is constantly at work through His Word. He promises that His Word will not return to Him empty, and that He will continue to give us blessing upon blessing each and every day.
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 clearly sees our shortcomings and sins but loves us anyway, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s a hot day, the perfect day for some ice cream. You step up to the counter and order one scoop of hard ice cream in a cone. The server gets a small scoop out of the bucket, sets it gently on top of the cone, and very slowly hands it over to you. Move too fast, and the ice cream might just tip off. “That’ll be $3!” You’re not impressed. Couldn’t they push some ice cream down in the cone and make the scoop a little bigger? Couldn’t they be a little more generous?
In today’s reading, Jesus talks about using a good measure in our dealings with others. He likens a generous measurement of grain in the marketplace—“pressed down, shaken together, running over”—to the generous way we should act toward others. Be stingy with love and kindness, and you will likely get the cold shoulder. Be generous and warm toward others, and the same will likely come back your way. Jesus said, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
But how exactly does that fit with what Jesus experienced during the time of His public work? No one ever gave a measure as generous as He did. He healed countless people of their demon-possession, diseases, and deformities, and He never charged them a dime. He patiently taught the demanding crowds and those who opposed Him. He was merciful and kind to young and old alike. He loved each and every one of His neighbors perfectly.
So shouldn’t He have received tremendous love and kindness in return? Shouldn’t the whole world have fallen down at His feet and praised this remarkable Man for His righteousness and humble service? Shouldn’t it have been obvious to them who He was—the holy Son of God in the flesh? Sometimes He was honored, by His disciples and by the crowds. But often His goodness and love were met with ugliness and hatred.
The people of His own town tried to throw Him off a cliff because He did not perform miracles for them like He had in other places. Many of the people who had followed Him left because He wasn’t interested in being the earthly king they wanted. The Jewish religious leaders accused Him of having a demon and working for the devil. They schemed to have Him arrested, condemned, and turned over to the Roman authorities to be put to death. The Roman soldiers beat Him, flogged Him, and mocked Him. He was nailed naked to a cross and made a spectacle to all who passed by.
If that is how people dealt with the best person who has ever lived, the one who never did anything wrong, it would seem there is no point in trying to be good. Why be kind to others if they’re just going to walk all over us? Why be generous if they will take advantage of our generosity? Why love if we’re just going to be hated? And Jesus knew this is what we would face. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Joh. 15:18,20).
But even though no one was ever mistreated like Jesus was mistreated, He still went willingly to the cross. He let the injustice come. He didn’t stop the punches, the spit, and the jeering. He didn’t make the nails turn to water or dust before they could be driven through His hands and feet. He let the nails come, and He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
That is not how the world operates. The world says, “If someone is mean to you, give it right back!” “If they don’t respect you, don’t give them the time of day!” “If a business doesn’t treat you right, post as many bad reviews as you can!” “If you don’t get what you think you are entitled to, hire a lawyer!” Everything is about me, what I deserve. Me first. That’s what the world teaches us.
But Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” He doesn’t teach us to think about what is most advantageous to us. He doesn’t teach us to treat others as they deserve. Jesus Teaches Us to See as He Does.
Now Jesus certainly sees everyone’s sin. There is no log in His eye obscuring His vision. There isn’t even a speck. He sees what is in our hearts and minds as clear as day. Nothing is hidden from His sight. But even though He can see the whole world’s sin, He doesn’t look upon us with anger in His eyes or judgment. He didn’t come to condemn us, damn us to hell. He came to save us.
When He looks upon you and me, He looks at us with eyes full of mercy and love. He knows how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. He knows how often we have failed in love for God and our neighbors. He knows how bitter we can get when others do not treat us like we feel we deserve. He knows how quickly and easily we regret an act of kindness that was not acknowledged or returned. He sees our stubborn pridefulness.
He turns His gaze toward us, seeing us in all our ugly sin, and He says, “I forgive all these transgressions. I do not condemn you. I shed My blood for you. I redeemed you, body and soul. My good name, My righteousness, My spotless record—all of it is yours.” We have not done anything to cause Jesus to look at us in this way. He looks at us this way because that is how He is. He is gracious and merciful.
And we know He is. We know it by the faith that God the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts. On our own, we would never believe that the Almighty God who demands perfection could ever look upon us with such kindness. But He does. He tells us so in His Word. His Word brought faith to our hearts, and His Word continues to strengthen our faith, so that it keeps bearing fruit.
This fruit is what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel. It is seeing our neighbor not as they are in their sin, but as God sees them, with eyes of mercy. It is refraining from judgment when our motive is not to warn them out of love but to condemn them out of spitefulness and self-righteousness. It is being generous in our attitude, in kindness, and in charity. It is doing to others as we would have them do to us.
The only way to have this perspective about others is to first acknowledge the vision impairment we have by nature. Jesus said that you can’t see clearly to remove a speck of sin from someone else’s eye unless you first recognize the log in your own eye. It’s a funny picture—trying to get close enough to examine someone’s eye but unable to because our eye-log keeps bumping into everything! That’s what our sinful pride and arrogance do; they obstruct our vision and make us difficult to be around.
We see as Jesus sees when we repent of our sins and recognize how much God has forgiven us. Then we are ready to humbly serve the sinners around us. Everyone was below Jesus, and yet He didn’t look at anyone that way. He turned everything upside down on its head. He taught His disciples: “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves…. I am among you as the one who serves” (Luk. 22:26,27). St. Paul wrote in one of his letters, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phi. 2:3).
That is the Christian life, a life lived by faith in Jesus. It is a blessed life, full of purpose and love. But what are we to do when Jesus’ words don’t seem to come true—“For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”? What if our good deeds and kind words are not rewarded with the same? What if we are attacked like Jesus was and face violent enemies who want to destroy us?
Even that does not negate Jesus’ words. Jesus does not promise that a rich measure of earthly fame and fortune will come back to us for our goodness. He does promise His never-ending grace. He does promise to give us rest from our weariness and trouble. He does promise His mercies and faithfulness which are new each morning. He does promise to take us soon from this world of trouble and sorrow to our eternal home with Him in heaven.
Whenever we do suffer here, we keep our eyes on Him. We see how He suffered—humbly, faithfully, committing everything to the care of His Father. Our job is not to obtain justice for ourselves in every area of our life on earth. We will probably never receive from others what we think is our “due.” We leave the balancing of these scales to God. We trust Him to give us our daily bread, to provide all that we need for this body and life.
His merciful care for us makes us free to have mercy and to forgive and to give with no expectation of repayment. We can dish out kindness and compassion toward others in large scoops—with generous measure. In all our dealings with others, we love and serve as Jesus loved and served. We will never be above Him, but by the continued work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, we can become more like Him.
And while we serve our neighbors imperfectly, Jesus will continue to serve us perfectly. He will keep pouring out His grace and forgiveness when we fail, and He will keep teaching us and helping us to see others as He does.
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 & Installation of Vicar – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 15:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who carried out the work we could not do, so that we would be freed to do the work He has called us to do, dear fellow redeemed:
The Pharisees and scribes thought they had done great things. They thought they had succeeded in keeping the holy law of God. Or if they hadn’t kept it perfectly, they had at least kept it better than everyone else. They were self-righteous. They were proud. But they seemed to have a valid concern when they saw Jesus eating with known sinners in the community. Why would Jesus risk His reputation by spending time with them? Didn’t He realize people might take His association with them as approval of what they did?
But Jesus did not look at these outcasts any differently than He looked at the Pharisees and scribes. He saw every person He interacted with in the exact same way. He saw each one as a lost sinner in need of salvation.
The Pharisees thought they had done great works. Jesus called on them to do a greater one: repent of their sins. Repenting of our sins—admitting that we have sinned against God and our neighbors—is perhaps the hardest thing God asks us to do. It is so difficult for us that we can’t do it on our own.
It is tempting to think of repentance as a work that we do which causes God to do something for us. “If I repent of my sins,” we say, “then God will forgive me.” We think of repentance as meeting God halfway—I repent, and He meets me with forgiveness. This makes our work and His work equal. But repentance is not our work. Jesus said that after His ascension, He would send the Holy Spirit to “convict the world concerning sin” (Joh. 16:8). St. Paul writes that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1Co. 12:3). No one can repent of his sins and trust in Jesus as his Savior “except in the Holy Spirit.”
The parables of Jesus make this clear. We hear about a sheep that wandered from the flock. Did the sheep realize he had taken a wrong turn and get himself back to the shepherd? No, he just got himself more and more lost. The shepherd had to go looking for him, and when he found him, he set him on his shoulders and brought him home. Who did the work? The sheep did nothing; the shepherd did everything.
The next parable makes this even clearer. A coin was lost. Maybe it got lost in the couch cushions or kicked under a cabinet. It couldn’t roll itself out to a better position to be found. The woman did all the work. She lit the lamp, swept the house, looked high and low until she finally pulled the coin out of the dark place where it had been concealed.
Jesus wants you to recognize that by nature you are that lost sheep. You are that lost coin. We don’t like to think of ourselves in this way. We like to think of ourselves as being much more capable, much more righteous. This is why repentance is so difficult. Our sinful nature is constantly fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit. When we are confronted with our sin, our reaction is to deny it or divert the attention to someone else. Maybe we turn the focus back on the person who is accusing us. “Who are you to criticize me!?! You’re no saint! You are the last person who should be saying something to me!”
But God did not give His law to reveal the sins of everyone but you. You should read and study God’s law first of all as His message to you. You are a lost and condemned sinner by nature. You have broken God’s law in every way. No matter how good you may look compared to the people around you, you are not good enough for God. He demands perfection. You have sinned. You cannot save yourself.
But God is merciful toward you. He sent His only Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Luk. 19:10). Jesus is the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one. What motivated Jesus to do this, to take on our flesh and sacrifice Himself for us sheep that loved to wander (ELH 292, v. 4)? He was motivated by perfect love toward His Father and perfect love for us. Jesus went to the cross for you, carrying all your sins of self-righteousness and pride and stubbornness, and He poured out His blood to wash away all your sins.
Your wayward ways are forgiven. Your wandering away from God’s care is forgotten. Your good Shepherd loves you. The angels of God rejoice because your merciful Lord has led you to repentance and faith in Him. The angels are not jealous that you will be joining them in heaven. There’s plenty of room! Jesus has prepared a place for you, even you, in heaven and for many more besides you.
God intends for all of you here to join Him in the mansions above. This is why He calls you week after week to hear His Word of grace and receive His Supper of salvation. The Holy Spirit’s work through the Word keeps you repentant. It keeps you faithful to our Lord’s promises. If you stop hearing this Word, the Word of your Shepherd and Lord, you will wander off again; you will become lost like you were before.
We have seen this happen with people we love. They used to go to church but now they don’t anymore. How do we get them back? You might think this is the pastor’s job. “Isn’t that one of the things we pay him for? And now he has another vicar to help him.” It is certainly part of my call to do this work. I am to care for the souls in our congregations and to reach out to more besides. But this isn’t just my calling as a pastor or Cody’s calling as a vicar. All of us are called to do this work as Christians.
Pastor Koren, who founded the Saude and Jerico congregations, suggested in a sermon on this text that the woman lighting a lamp and sweeping the house in search of the lost coin is a picture of God’s Church. The Church made up of all believers in Jesus is tasked with seeking the lost. This seeking starts with the members of our household, in the household of faith. Galatians 6 says, “let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (v. 10).
One way we “do good” for our brothers and sisters in Christ is to pray for them. Maybe you have been using our “Prayer Prompts” schedule to do this or just opening up your church directory to pray for your fellow members. And when you notice that a member has not been in church for a while, you can reach out to them and see how they are doing. It will have a greater impact coming from you than from the pastor. Why? Because of the mistaken perception that “the pastor is just doing his job.”
It is easy to wash our hands of our responsibility to our fellow Christians. But then we are no better than the Pharisees and scribes who were eager to condemn the sinners but were not eager to help them. The weakness we see in others is the same weakness that afflicts us. The sin that shows itself in others more or less publicly is the same sin in our own hearts.
We want others to regularly hear the Word of our Savior, because we know our need to regularly hear the Word of our Savior. We want others to repent because we know our need for repentance. We can relate to our fellow members and to our neighbors in the community, because all of us are sinners who need the rich grace of God.
Cody, this is the starting point of your work among us. You are called to be a humble servant to the people of this parish. The ability and the strength to do this work does not come from you. It comes from Him who took our weaknesses onto Himself, died for them on the cross, and rose victorious from the grave on Easter morning. Jesus, who redeemed you by His blood, will guide and prosper all your efforts done in His name.
As you go about your work among us, you will have plenty of reason to repent just as I do. You and I are sinners like the people we serve. But while we weep with our fellow sinners over our trespasses, we also have plentiful reason to rejoice with them. We rejoice because Jesus has forgiven all our weaknesses and wrongs. He does not leave us to our sinful ways. He comes looking for us and pulls us out of danger and back into His safety.
As He does this gracious work, the angels in heaven rejoice. We rejoice with them. We rejoice that God moves us to humbly repent and believe His Word. We rejoice that He brings long-lost sheep back to His fold. We rejoice that He has called us out of our pharisaical self-righteous to faith in Him.
All the good we have is a gift from Him. There is nothing we have done to deserve it. There is nothing we have done to earn it. He found us, the wandering sheep; He found us, the lost coins, and brought us to repentance and faith in Him. We pray that His gracious work will continue among us, and that He will use our humble hands to carry the lamp of His Word into the darkness, our humble mouths to call back those who have wandered, and our humble hearts to rejoice with them when Jesus brings them back.
This work is the Lord’s. And so is the glory.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Good Shepherd” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who invites you to His great feast not just once in your life but every single day, so that you are continuously nourished and strengthened in Him, dear fellow redeemed:
The setting for Jesus’ parable was a dinner table. A ruler of the Pharisees had invited Jesus to a meal one Sabbath day. It seems like a generous invitation, but it was actually because the Pharisees wanted to catch Jesus saying or doing something that contradicted the Law of God. The evangelist Luke says that “they were watching him carefully” (14:1). What they did not realize is that Jesus was watching them carefully. In fact, He saw to the very bottom of their hearts. He spoke His parable to open their eyes to their unbelief and create faith in their hearts.
But His parable was not for them only; it is also for us and for all who hear the words of Jesus. He told about a great banquet that should have been anticipated by all. But when the time came for the banquet, the invited guests had excuses for why they couldn’t come. This was a description of the Jewish leaders who claimed to be waiting for a Messiah. But when He came, they opposed Him. They closed their ears to His convicting words of Law, and so they were not prepared to hear His beautiful words of promise.
When the Jewish leaders would not come, Jesus turned His attention to “the poor and crippled and blind and lame”—the outcasts like the Jewish tax collectors, public sinners, and the demon-possessed. Many of them gladly heard the Word of Jesus, repented of their sins, and put their trust in Him. Still there was room in the Master’s banquet hall, so servants were sent out to “the highways and hedges” looking for more. This refers to the Gentiles, the people outside the city, which also includes you and me today.
What a surprise for the outsiders to hear the servants say, “Come, for everything is now ready!” “There must be some mistake; how could we be invited to the banquet of someone we don’t even know?” But that’s how the Gospel works. We were called by the Holy Spirit to the Master’s feast, not because we were old friends and not because we had proven ourselves worthy of an invitation. We didn’t know someone on the inside to let us in. We didn’t even know there was a great feast going on until God made it known to us.
The call of the Gospel is a free gift. A couple weeks ago, we heard Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about the work of the Holy Spirit. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Joh. 3:5,8). We enter the kingdom of God because He wills it. We do not decide to enter His kingdom—He decides.
But we cannot enter His kingdom as we are. No guest at the Master’s feast can come in the rags of his own righteousness. The way the Master cleanses us of our filth and covers us in holiness is through the life-giving waters of Baptism. “[A]ccording to his own mercy,” He saved us, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Ti. 3:5-6). The robes of Jesus’ holiness were placed over us in Baptism, and we started to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Your Baptism put you on the Master’s guest list. You are invited to His great banquet. The banquet is the continued hearing of His Word and partaking of His Sacraments. Jesus said disciples are made for Him out of the nations by baptizing and teaching them (Mat. 28:19-20). Baptism happens once and lasts a lifetime. But the teaching of His Word is ongoing. It continues to guide sinners to repentance and keep them in the grace of their Baptism until their time here comes to an end.
Jesus your Savior calls you to hear His Word and meditate on it every day. Some of you might have an hour each day that you could dedicate to reading the Bible. Others might only have five minutes in the morning and evening to read a devotion and pray. The point is to take your seat at the Master’s table as often as you can and receive the rich food that only He can give. His Word serves up forgiveness for your sin and grace to free you from your guilt. His Word delivers peace to your heart and strength to your soul. It prepares you for the work God has given you to do in your home, workplace, and community.
The work you do in those vocations is important work. There was nothing wrong with the man in the parable wanting to see a field he had bought, or another man wanting to inspect his oxen, or another man giving attention to his new bride. The problem was that they chose to do those things instead of attending the Master’s feast. There is nothing wrong with putting in hours at work, expanding your business, and focusing on your family. The problem is when these things take the place of God’s Word and are given priority over God’s Word.
When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to give “the great commandment in the law,” Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy (6:5): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mat. 22:37). God doesn’t ask you to love Him with half your heart, a quarter of your soul, or a tenth of your mind. He says your devotion to Him should be total, should be perfect. All of your focus, all of your being, all of your days should be directed toward learning His Word and doing His will.
It’s easy to come up with reasons why that just isn’t possible. If you “lived by the letter,” how could you get along with anyone else? Wouldn’t they think that you think you are better than them? And besides, you pay more attention to God’s Word than just about everyone else you know. You figure you are in pretty good shape. You might not always attend the Master’s feast—and certainly not every day—, but you know about it. You know God’s Word is there when you need it.
One of the important questions to ask is whether Christianity fits into your life, or whether your life fits into Christianity. What I mean is: do you look at your Baptism into Christ and His work in your life through the Word as just one piece of the pie? And home life is another piece, and work is another piece, and hobbies and leisure time and so on are other pieces? Or is Christ in all of it?
That’s the way St. Paul talked. “For you have died,” he said, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Your life was joined to your Savior in Baptism. That is where you died and where you rose again with Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,” wrote Paul, “he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co. 5:17). In another place he said that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
These passages say that your life is not about your purpose, not about your plans. Your life is about the Lord’s purpose and His plans. Your life is lived in Him and through Him. But then why does our Master have to keep inviting us to His feast? It is because our sinful nature is still active, and our sinful nature is great at making excuses. The old Adam has all sorts of reasons why we don’t have time for God’s Word. And the more we set aside the Word, the easier it gets to set aside the Word.
Jesus did not suffer from these same weaknesses. He never set aside the Word of His Father. He listened to it perfectly and did everything God commanded. And when His suffering began to intensify in the Garden of Gethsemane, He did not make excuses why He had to be somewhere else. He said to His heavenly Father, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42).
Because Jesus carried out His Father’s will, you have forgiveness for your sinful excuses. Jesus went to the cross and paid for all of your transgressions against God—your sins of not making His Word a priority in your home, your sins of not sharing the hope you have in Christ with your friends and co-workers, your sins of doing what you want instead of what God wants.
Despite your many sins, the Master still sends His servants to say, “Come, for everything is now ready.” I am one of those servants, but the message is for me too. The feast of salvation is prepared for all of us sinners. The table is set right now with God’s grace-filled Word and life-giving Sacraments. His Word is ready for you every day. He wants you always to be a guest His table. He wants you to enjoy His feast. He wants by this rich food to prepare you for the eternal feasting in heaven.
The invitation making its way to you is no mistake. Jesus intends for you to have His gifts. Now is no time for distractions and excuses. Now is the time for repentance, for a humble trust in His Word, and for the desire to grow in faith and in a godly life. Now is the time to eat from the Bread of Life and drink from the living waters of God. Now is the time to “taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psa. 34:8).
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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 has reconciled us with God the Father by dying on the cross for our sins, so that we are all sons of God through faith, dear fellow redeemed:
There was a man who grew up with very little. Not much was expected of him. He would live out his life in a humble corner of the world and would soon be forgotten after he died. But this man was not satisfied with that kind of anonymous life. He soon out-studied, out-worked, and out-earned his peers. No one possessed a drive like he did. No one had a vision and a plan like he did. People began to take notice. He climbed the social ladder. Beautiful women paid attention to him, and he married the prettiest one. They built a mansion and filled it with the finest things. God gave them six sons—all of them gifted. Everyone knew them. It seemed like the perfect family.
But hard work does not always mean success. Another man who grew up in the same neighborhood did not have the same opportunities. His parents were in poor health, so he had to drop out of school to help make ends meet. His pay was hardly enough to cover the bills. He worked long days but little changed. He married a poor woman, and they hoped for a brighter future. But there were fertility problems along with the added strain of caring for his ailing parents. The burdens of this young couple were heavy, but they found comfort in the Scriptures. The God who saved His people Israel from slavery and brought them to the promised land would save them too.
Finally the Lord blessed them with a child, a son! They gave him a name that means, “God has helped.” He was their greatest joy. They couldn’t afford to buy him new clothes or any toys, but they loved him. They were going to help him rise up and achieve more than they ever had. But then they got sick—first mom, then dad. When their son was just nine years old, he became an orphan. He bounced around until he was thirteen when there were no doors open to him anymore. And he found himself on the street.
Our heart breaks for this child who never seemed to have a chance. If we could choose one of the two scenarios for our kids, we would choose the first one. We want to give our children a healthy upbringing, a chance to succeed. We want them to have the good things that we did not have. We certainly don’t want them to end up on the street! But there was something the homeless boy had that the six wealthy boys did not, something that set him on a much better course. The homeless boy had faith.
We have just imagined the backstory for the lives of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in today’s Gospel. We don’t have the specific details, but it is safe to say that although the rich man had some knowledge of biblical things, he did not have faith. His brothers didn’t either, which is why he begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn them. “Moses and the Prophets aren’t good enough,” he said. “They need something more impactful, like someone coming back from the dead!”
Abraham’s reply to the rich man’s request is something that should wake up all of us, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets—if they do not hear the Holy Scriptures of God—, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” How much did the rich man’s purple clothes and fine linen matter as he suffered the torments of hell? How about his lavish feasts? His vast riches? How much would the rich man have given up for “Moses and the Prophets” if he could escape hell and have a second chance?
But there are no second chances after death. There is no purgatory to pay off our sins. There is no period after Christ’s return when sinners can repent. Right now is our time of grace. “Behold, now is the favorable time,” writes St. Paul; “behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Co. 6:2). That makes the role of the head of the house, the father, vitally important.
That might sound like old-fashioned language. People might chalk it up to tradition, remnants of a “patriarchal” view of society. But God does intend the man to be the head of his house. What exactly does that mean? It does not mean that a husband or a father is a dictator who bosses everyone around and forces them to do whatever he wants. It means that he uses his authority to serve. He sacrifices his own desires and plans for the good of those in his care. And he places the greatest priority on the spiritual well-being of his household.
That’s what Jesus does for us as the Head of the Church. He is the Master of this House, but He doesn’t use His authority to serve Himself. He uses His authority to bless us, to give us what we could not have without Him. This is how God calls a man to function in his home, for his wife and kids. The Letter to the Ephesians says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (5:23).
Our homes need the salvation that Jesus brings. The world, of course, does not teach this. The world says the best thing you can do for your children is give them a comfortable home and pay for a good education that will result in their landing a good job. But none of those things are any good if your children don’t have faith in Jesus. Lazarus had more than the six rich brothers combined, because he had hope that there would be an end to his troubles. He had hope that there was a better life after this one. He had hope that his merciful Father would bring him to his heavenly home.
What the beggar Lazarus had was the most important thing, but do we emphasize that in our homes? Do we teach our children and grandchildren that they have everything by faith even if there is no money in their bank account? Do we teach them by example that devotion time is more important than couch time in front of the TV? That weekends in the church pews are more important than weekend getaways?
I do not speak as a father who does this perfectly in his own home. The Word of God is not the priority in our home like it should be. Work can easily get in the way or weariness or the million little activities pulling us in all sorts of directions. The devil is the king of distraction. He knows how devastating the Word of God is to his wicked plans. He knew Lazarus had faith, which was why he afflicted him with such terrible trouble. He was content to leave the faithless rich man to his riches.
We would rather have a life of trouble with the Word than a life of comfort without it. The Word of God conveys riches to us that no amount of money can buy. The Word assures us of a perfect standing before God since the righteousness of Jesus covers us completely. The Word gives us a clear conscience because Jesus paid for all our sins. The Word plants life in us because Jesus won for us eternal life.
These riches of God are freely given to us beggars. We have nothing to offer Him; our hands are empty. He covers us with beautiful clothing. He fills us with delicious food. These spiritual gifts are given to us at church and at home—wherever His Word is in use. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” says Jesus, “there am I among them” (Mat. 18:20).
When a father gathers His family to hear the Word, he can take comfort in knowing that he is not the most important person in the room. Jesus is. And where Jesus is, there is comfort in times of sorrow, peace in times of conflict, strength in times of trouble, grace to cover a multitude of sins. The best thing a father can do is give his family Jesus. He does that by guiding his family in the Word.
That is what the rich man’s father failed to do. When conversing with Abraham across the great chasm between hell and heaven, the rich man referred to Abraham as his “father” three times. He may have been descended from Abraham by blood, but he was not a spiritual descendant of Abraham. The spiritual descendants of Abraham are those who believe the promise of a Savior like he did. Lazarus believed this promise, and when he died, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”
The rich man was no true son of Abraham, but you are. St. Paul writes that “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:7,29). Even though we are focusing on fathers today, all of us are sons of Abraham by faith. All of us are children of the heavenly Father.
Earthly fathers are just dim reflections of the perfect heavenly Father. Sometimes an earthly father does not resemble the heavenly Father in any way. He does not lead his family in what is good and true. If you had a father like that, you can know that your Father in heaven will never harm you or neglect you. He loves you and sent His only Son to die for you.
If you had a good, Christian father, you can thank God that he humbly listened to the Word and taught you to do the same. Fathers are absolutely needed for the spiritual training of their children. When fathers are not engaged with the Word, it is far less likely that their children will care about the Word as they get older. I don’t think I would be a pastor if my father had not made church attendance and family devotions a priority. In fact, I’m not sure I would even be in the church if he hadn’t led the way.
The theme for today’s sermon is: A Faithful Father Is Worth His Weight in Gold. In case you’re wondering how much that is, a two hundred pound dad would be worth about four-and-a-half million dollars. But a faithful father is actually worth far more. No amount of money can equal the passing down of the faith from generation to generation. It is the best inheritance you have received. It is the best inheritance you can pass on to your children and to your children’s children.
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(woodcut of Lazarus and the angels from 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)
The Festival of the Holy Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 3:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who does not lie to us, even though our sinful flesh finds the truth offensive, because He wants to save us and give us eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
If you still have your old high school yearbooks, what are the chances that one of your classmates wrote this message, “Never change”? It seems like a common yearbook message, “Never change.” Taken literally, it means someone wants you to keep being a not-entirely-mature-teenager forever. But it is really intended to be a note of encouragement—something like, “I think you are a nice person. I appreciate who you are.”
What do you suppose God might write in a yearbook? It’s a silly question, but I’m sure He wouldn’t write, “Never change.” That is not obvious to everyone. There are many who think this is exactly what God says. They say things like, “God loves me for who I am. He does not judge me or question my decisions. He accepts me just the way I am.” But that is not true. The teaching of Jesus proves it.
When Jesus started His public teaching in Galilee, He said, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mar. 1:15). The Son of God didn’t take on human flesh so He could hang out with us, tell us what a good job we are doing, and pat us on the back. He came telling us that we cannot remain as we are—not if we hope to be saved.
This is the lesson He wanted to teach Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a leading Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. Jesus referred to him as “the teacher of Israel,” which could mean he enjoyed special standing among his peers. Nicodemus was curious about Jesus, but wanting to keep his curiosity in the dark, he went to Jesus by night. He greeted Jesus and spoke on behalf of the Jewish leaders. He said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” They knew who He was because of what they had seen Him do.
Jesus quickly showed Nicodemus that they didn’t know as much as they thought. Sure, they had seen the signs, but did they really believe? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” If you are not “born again”—or as it could also be translated, “born from above”—you cannot really see anything.
That was a shocking statement. Nicodemus might have expected Jesus to be flattered by his words and think of Nicodemus as a friend. But now he was put back on his heels. Jesus seemed to indicate that Nicodemus and his associates were not seeing clearly, if they were seeing at all! They needed to be born again, to be born from above, to become something other than they were. But how could old men like them be reborn?
The answer is: not by their own efforts. That’s what the Pharisees had all wrong. They thought they could please God by their holy living. They thought salvation depended on their own good behavior. They thought everyone should become more like them, so they didn’t see the need to change. The devil had “pulled the wool over their eyes.” They were spiritually blind.
That same condition afflicts all of us by nature. We think we can see and understand things better than we actually do. And we think we are more righteous in our behavior than we actually are. How do we come to those conclusions? Usually by comparing ourselves with others around us. That’s what the Pharisees did. They could always find sinners to look down on. They could always find people to judge.
And we are not to judge, in the sense of pointing out everyone else’s sins while ignoring our own. But it is entirely right to judge between true teaching and false teaching. It is entirely right to judge between what God says we should do in His Law and what we are actually doing. Our society says we have to accept people as they are and support them in how they want to live and what they want to do. Anything less than that is hatred and bigotry, they say.
But what if they are choosing to do things that are harmful to themselves and others, things that God clearly warns us about? Is it judgmental to question those things, or is it loving? Of course how we approach our neighbors about their sin matters. If they get the impression that we are like the Pharisee in the temple boasting about the wonderful things we do and how much better we are than others, they are not going to listen to us. But if they see us coming with humility, truly concerned about their spiritual well-being, they might not like what we have to say, but they will see it is sincere.
We must remember that we are not any better by nature than anyone else—not better than the drug addict, the thief, the adulterer, or the murderer. Our sins may be less public, but they are not less. This is why God had to change us. We could not get to heaven as we were. He had to turn us back from the path we were on, change our hearts, open our eyes, guide us in the light of His truth.
God is qualified to do this, because He is holy and He alone. He knows perfectly what is right, what is true. He makes flawless decisions. He does the right things always. His judgment is never impaired. His plans are never misguided. That means there is no reason for God to change, and it’s good that He doesn’t!
If we couldn’t trust God to tell us the truth, if we couldn’t trust Him to keep His promises, it would be terrifying indeed to be under His control. Will we get a nice God today, or an angry one? A patient and loving God, or a vengeful one? We have a merciful God, always merciful. He does not punish us, because Jesus, the Son of God, stepped in our place. Jesus took the punishment for our sins. He paid our debt of unrighteousness. He felt the fires of our hell.
Jesus did what we could never do, not with a million holy deeds or a million generous words. No matter how hard we have tried to do and say and think what is right, we have not been perfect. We can’t change the way we are by nature. We can’t change the sinful inclinations of our sinful hearts. But God can.
God has caused us to be born again. He brought about our first birth, and He brought about our rebirth. “[U]nless one is born of water and the Spirit,” said Jesus, “he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Which is to say that if you are born of water and the Spirit, you can enter the kingdom of God. You are born of water and the Spirit. You are baptized, and “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mar. 16:16).
God changed you. He brought you to faith. Only He can work faith. Nicodemus thought he could figure things out on his own. Jesus pointed him to the Holy Scriptures. He said, “we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” Nicodemus wanted to rely on his own abilities, his own reason. Jesus called him to forget all of that and believe.
Jesus’ words to him were powerful. The Holy Spirit worked through them. It is clear that Nicodemus did become a believer. As the Jewish leaders voiced their opposition to Jesus in a meeting of the Jewish council, Nicodemus tried to defend Him. And then on Good Friday after Jesus had died, Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in burying the body of Jesus.
Nicodemus changed by the gracious work of God. He was not fine as he was. Heaven was not his until God granted it to him. Popular society today does not like this talk of our needing to change. What people want is for God to change for them rather than their changing for God. What God clearly condemns, they say He accepts. What God says He hates, they say He loves. They are exchanging the truth about God for a lie (Rom. 1:25).
But “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). If you take pride in giving in to your sinful desires, you will not see the kingdom of God. Then you show that the flesh is your master and not the Spirit.
But if you repent of your sins and have the honest intention to do better, you show that the Spirit is at work within you. You show that you are a child of God and not of the devil, a follower of the Word and not of the world. The Triune God changed you at your Baptism, and He wants to keep you in Him. Because your sinful nature keeps rearing its ugly head and tries to pull you away from salvation in Christ, the Holy Spirit needs to keep cleansing, keep turning, keep strengthening your heart.
That is what He does through the Word and Sacraments. He assures you that all your sins are blotted out by the blood of Jesus. He turns you from your self-trust and your prideful thinking and leads you to the light of God’s truth. He strengthens you in the confidence that salvation and life are yours because God does not change. His promise stands firm. The Son of Man was lifted up on the cross for you, so that you and all who believe in Him would have eternal life.
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(picture from “Christ and Nicodemus” by Fritz von Uhde, c. 1886)
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.
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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).
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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.
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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)