The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15
In Christ Jesus, who comforts us in our fears with the sure hope of salvation and eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
A struggling economy. An unemployment rate in double figures. Plummeting crop prices. Unrest all across the country. This was the setting in 1933 when President Roosevelt gave his inaugural address. In the very first paragraph, he spoke words that have been repeated many times since: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He said that the collective fear of the population is a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
He was on to something. He recognized that fear is not a thing we are made to feel or experience. It does not come at us from the outside; it wells up inside us. So for example, spiders or snakes do not possess the power to make you afraid. This is clear from the fact that not everyone is afraid of spiders or snakes. Those who are afraid of them don’t like the way they crawl or slither. They don’t like coming across them unprepared. But ultimately, these animals are just a very small part of God’s vast creation.
Sometimes our fears developed from a traumatic experience in our youth. This may explain the fear people have of going to the dentist or of sleeping without a light on. But dentists are not inherently bad, and the darkness of night does not mean you are unsafe. This is all clear enough in the daylight with no dentist’s chair, snake, or spider present. But that doesn’t stop us from being afraid when we do face these things.
We have other fears these days, some of the same ones that were on people’s minds during the Great Depression. The economy is struggling. People are out of work. Demonstrations and riots are taking place across the country. A virus is spreading. There seem to be more questions at hand than answers. It won’t do to have someone tell us to just stop being afraid. Fear is not something we can turn on and off like a light switch.
But it is possible to redirect our fear. This is very important today when fear threatens to overwhelm both us and the people in our communities. Fear can make us do irrational and harmful things. Have you ever injured yourself in an attempt to destroy a tiny spider? The effort probably did not match the enemy. Fear can make us overreact to perceived threats around us. If others will not share our fear, it is easy to go on the attack—turn our backs on them, demonize them, maybe even physically harm them or hope for something bad to happen to them.
The apostle Peter urges a different approach in the Spirit-inspired words of today’s text. He calls on us to seek unity, to be sympathetic, to love others like they are members of your family, to have compassion, to be humble. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling,” he writes, “but on the contrary, bless.” Your neighbor is not your enemy. You are not called to fight him but to love him.
This of course is not easy. When we have been wronged, we don’t want to let someone off too easily. If we do, we are afraid that we will be wronged again. Or if we try to build bridges and make amends, we are afraid that our attempts will be rejected and our kindness thrown back in our face. But what we are afraid of more than anything is looking weak, taking the humble path, swallowing our pride, submitting to one another. This is difficult and even painful. Why should we have to do this?
We show love to our neighbors because it is right. It is the will of God, and His will is perfect. We are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18). God has the authority to demand this of us because He is the only God. His First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” This means that “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s explanation).
But what exactly does it mean to fear God? It means to fear His punishment if we sin against Him. This fear causes us to do one of two things. The first is to try to hide from Him like Adam and Eve tried to do. But as they learned, there is no way to hide from God. Peter attempted something like this when Jesus gave him and the other fishermen the great catch of fish. Seeing what had happened, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luk. 5:8). Peter’s sin made him want to escape the Lord’s presence.
But the better way to deal with the fear of God’s punishment is to repent of our sins, to kneel before Him and put ourselves in His mercy. We might be able to hide our sins from others, but we cannot hide them from God. He already knows them, and He will have justice. He does not play games. The author of Hebrews writes that “[i]t is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). It would be terrifying to stand before Him without repentance and faith. Then all our sins would be brought up against us and held against us.
This is why He wants us to repent, repent of our lack of trust in Him, repent of our lack of love toward our neighbor, repent of our fearing so many things around us, but hardly fearing Him. And what does He do when we lay our hearts and minds open before Him? By admitting our wrongs, don’t we acknowledge that He has the right to punish us?
He does have that right, but He does not send His wrath upon the repentant. He gives His grace. Look how the Lord dealt with Peter. Peter had just admitted his sinfulness. He was terrified to be in the presence of the holy God and begged Jesus to leave. And the next words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “Do not be afraid” (Luk. 5:10).
This is how the Lord deals with each one of us. We have sinned against Him in so many ways, and He knows it! But His response is not to take revenge. It is not to demonize us or seek to harm us. His response is forgiveness. Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid of God’s wrath anymore because I took that righteous punishment for you. Do not be afraid that your Father in heaven will turn His back on you because He turned His back on Me instead. Do not be afraid of suffering in hell for your sins because I suffered hell for your sins.”
Because of what Jesus did, you are reconciled to God. He is not your enemy. He loves you. He seeks your good. Quoting Psalm 34, Peter writes that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer.” God considers you righteous because you trust in His holy Son. His ears are wide open to you. He wants to hear your fears. He wants you to turn them over to Him—fears about your relationships, fears about your finances, fears about the future, fears about your health and life.
The Lord promises that He will not abandon you to these fears. He will not leave you even if the whole world turns against you. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” asks Peter. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” You are blessed in your suffering because the Lord is with you, and no evil can prevail against Him. The victory is already His over sin and death, world and devil. And that victory is yours by faith in your Savior Jesus.
You and I cannot control what may happen to us today or tomorrow or the next day. That can make us feel afraid; we like to be in control. But it is far better to put our trust in the Lord, to leave our lives in His control. He loves us with an unchanging love. He redeemed our lives by shedding His own precious blood. He graciously called us to faith so that we would become heirs of eternal life and salvation.
“Fear itself,” as President Roosevelt put it, is not the problem as much as what we fear. Our fear should be directed to the Lord alone. He is completely holy and just. He is all-powerful and knows all. He can end the troubles we face in a moment, or He can use them to shape us and to call us and those around us to repentance.
Whatever He does, we know that He does it out of love. Through Jesus our Savior, we do not need to fear His wrath or eternal punishment. The fear that makes us want to run and hide is replaced by the fear that loves Him, respects Him, and wants to “serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Second Article explanation).
So we look to Him in this godly fear, entrusting our lives and our troubles and our futures to Him. And He looks upon us with grace as His own dear children and says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
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.
+ + +
(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 5:6-11
In Christ Jesus, who will never cast out those who come to Him in faith (Joh. 6:37), dear fellow redeemed:
When you want someone to back up what they say by what they do, you might remind them that “talk is cheap.” In last week’s Epistle lesson, we heard John address this when he wrote, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1Jo. 3:18). So it’s one thing for a person to say, “I care about you,” and it’s another for them to show it. One of the most comforting passages in the Bible is found in today’s text: “[Cast] all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” But How Does God Care for Us?
Our friends show that they care for us by being there when we need them. They listen sympathetically to our problems. They may speak words of encouragement to us, or offer us food and gifts to help us and cheer us up. God also cares for us like this as He joins us in our troubles and listens to our prayers. He shares His Word of encouragement with us, and He constantly provides the things we need for this body and life. But He demonstrates His care for us in even more profound ways than these.
Peter writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that “the God of all grace… has called you to His eternal glory in Christ.” The God of all grace does not punish us for our sins as we deserve. He shows undeserved love and kindness toward us. In His grace He has called us to “eternal glory in Christ.” The “in Christ” is crucial. God did not say, “I know you have broken all My Commandments, but let’s let bygones be bygones. Let’s just forget that that happened. Why don’t you come up here to heaven and enjoy My eternal glory?”
We are called to eternal glory “in Christ.” Eternal glory was won for us by Christ. He won eternal glory by taking the everlasting guilt and punishment for our sin on Himself. This shows us so clearly that God cares for us. God the Father sent His Son to be our Substitute, to pay the price for sin in our place, to die our death, to suffer our hell. Because He did this out of obedience to His Father, “[t]herefore God has highly exalted him” (Phi. 2:9). Now the kingdom and the power and the glory are His both as God and Man.
Our heavenly Father also wants us to have a share of this glory. This is why He has called us to faith in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. We confess that “the Holy Ghost has called [us] by the Gospel” (Third Article of the Creed). He has called us through the message of Christ crucified and risen. When we were converted, the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for us on the cross was applied to us, and His perfect keeping of the Holy Law was credited to us. This means that nothing stands between the believer and eternal glory. Eternal glory is ours already in Christ.
But that is difficult to understand or even to remember when our life on earth is anything but glorious. Peter here clearly acknowledges that we Christians have anxieties, worries, cares. Sometimes we share the same anxieties, such as when flooding or drought affect the whole community, or when economic troubles touch us all. Last March when concerns about a new virus reached us, we collectively felt the anxiety of the unknown. Will we and our loved ones stay healthy? Will we have enough food and supplies? Will we be able to keep our jobs?
When all that was happening, a friend pointed out that the anxiety we felt at that time is something that a portion of the population deals with much or all the time. There are some who live under a cloud of despair, who constantly imagine the worst case scenario, who experience depressive episodes or severe mood swings, who are stuck in addictive behavior, who hardly ever feel happy. For these friends of ours, anxiety and depression and a feeling of worthlessness are often a daily struggle. It can be difficult in these times to believe that God really cares.
And that’s exactly the doubt that the devil wants to plant in our minds. Peter writes that “[y]our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” His aim is to attack and destroy our faith, our hope, and our love. He wants to tear us away from Jesus and the salvation He has won for us. He does this primarily through temptation.
He tempts us to wonder if God cares about us when things are going badly. He tempts us to doubt God’s Word which assures us of our Lord’s care. And if we become convinced that God will not help, the devil tempts us to rely on ourselves to pull ourselves out of the depths and to fix our own deep-rooted problems. This only sends us deeper and deeper down.
The devil may successfully tempt us to doubt God’s care, but he cannot stop God’s care. It is an unchangeable, irreversible truth that God Cares for Us. He has not only “called [us] to His eternal glory in Christ,” which we will fully enjoy in heaven, but He is also with us in our struggles here on earth. Our text says that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace… will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
How does He “restore” us? Psalm 23 tells us that the Good Shepherd restores our soul “in green pastures,” “beside still waters,” and “in paths of righteousness.” Our soul is restored in the life-giving nourishment and in the living waters of our Lord’s Word. Through His Word, our Shepherd meets us with the gifts of His grace. He brings us forgiveness when we have listened to the lies of the devil instead of trusting in Him. He brings us His holiness, so that we can stand free of sin and guilt before our Father in heaven and be judged as righteous on the last day.
Jesus also comes to “confirm” our faith, so we can resist the attacks of our adversary. We who belong to Jesus by faith have Him on our side in the fight against the devil and all evil. The devil wants us to think that we are totally alone in this world, that God does not care for us and neither does anyone else. But we are not alone, not even close. The Lord is with us, and He reminds us that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
We are joined together with all believers in the body of Christ. We face a common enemy, but God has equipped us for the battle, and Jesus leads the charge. No matter what troubles come our way, we cannot lose because we are in Christ, and He conquers all. So He “strengthens” us in this promise of His undying care, and He “establishes” us, gives us a firm footing in His Word, so that nothing can destroy our faith in Him.
These are the concrete ways God shows His care for us. He does not always give us what we ask for or give to us right away. But He certainly still cares. Sometimes in His care, He places a cross on us, not to drive us away from Him but to draw us closer. These crosses remind us that we cannot get along by our own wisdom and strength. We are not in control of the past, the present, or the future. Our life is in the hands of “the God of all grace.” Whatever He does, including humbling us under His “mighty hand,” is for our good. It is because He cares.
So you may cast all your anxieties on Him. He invites you to do this. He can handle anything you throw His way. These burdens are too heavy for you, but they are not too heavy for Him. Jesus carried your sins and the sins of the whole world to the cross. He can bear the daily worries and cares that weigh you down. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).
We find rest in Jesus. We find it by listening to His sure promises in His Word. We find it by receiving His free gifts in His Sacraments. His care for us never falters. His commitment to us never dries up. As long as we have breath, He has blessings to give us through His Word. And when we breathe our last, He has eternal blessings waiting for us in heaven.
God’s talk is not cheap. He sealed the promise of our salvation through the blood of His Son. He showed His care for us not just by saying, but by doing. And He still actively works for our good. He defends us from the constant attacks of the devil, and He delivers us when we have fallen to our knees and can go no further. “[A]t the proper time” He will exalt us, lift us up, and bring us at last to “His eternal glory.”
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.
+ + +
(picture from “The Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 3:13-18
In Christ Jesus, who lived a perfect life of love on our behalf, and who continues to inspire and work that love among us, dear fellow redeemed:
The home should be a place of love, kindness, and joy, but it isn’t always so. The people who make up a family are sinners, and sinners like to have things their way. You may remember thinking that you “just can’t live” with that annoying sibling anymore or with those unfair parents. You may have even said to one of them those three terrible, powerful words, “I hate you!” You probably regretted saying that later on and were glad to hear the even more powerful words, “I forgive you! I love you!”
Hatred has no place in the Christian home or in the Christian congregation. Hatred is the aim of the devil. He is eager to incite division, conflict, violence, abuse, and self-centeredness. We see these things raging all around us. God calls His people to do the opposite of these things. He calls us to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32). The Letter to the Galatians outlines “the fruit of the Spirit” in the life of the Christian, the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23).
But our lives as Christians don’t always look so fruitful. Just like the unbelievers of the world, we Christians are guilty of sinful stubbornness, hatred, and selfishness. In the broader Christian church, the world is right to point an accusing finger at us. Look at the rampant abuse of power and trust by ministers who are supposed to serve with love and humility. Look at all the congregations that are torn apart by petty disputes among its members. Unbelievers see these things and walk the other way.
But let’s bring it closer to home. Is there anything that visitors might see or hear among us to make them question if we really believe what we say we do? Would they detect that we accept people who are like us while looking down on those who are not? Would they hear us speak harshly or engage in gossip about others? Would they get a warm welcome or a cold shoulder? Would they find humility among us or pride? Cooperation or division?
I suppose they would find a mixture of all these things. We are not perfect. We are just as sinful as any who might walk through those doors. But we must never become comfortable in that sin. Instead of tucking our sin away, trying to cover it up, we expose it to the light of God’s Word. That is no easy thing. It is not fun to have our sins uncovered. It is easy enough to shine the light on the sins of other people. But when that light shines on us, we want to hide our wrongs.
The apostle John writes, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” When we hear “brother,” we think “male sibling.” But here the term is not used for our biological family. It is used for our spiritual family. We are all “brothers,” because we are “all sons of God, through faith” as the Bible says (Gal. 3:26). Through faith, we join Jesus in His position as the Father’s only Son, which means that all the honor and glory the Father bestows on His exalted Son is also given to us.
In this way, every believer in Jesus is totally equal: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We are equally redeemed by God, equally forgiven, equally treasured. Since He loves us this way without distinctions, this is how we should love one another. By our willing and cheerful love toward each other, we show that “we have passed out of death into life.” We are not lost in the devil’s darkness. We are not consumed by hatred. We love as God has loved us.
When one Christian does not love another Christian, this is not justifiable in God’s sight. That does not stop us from trying to justify it. Like the guests in the Holy Gospel for today who had all kinds of excuses why they couldn’t attend the master’s banquet (Luk. 14:16-24), we make excuses for why we don’t have to love our brothers in Christ. Our lack of love sounds like this:
- “How could I possibly love her after what she did to me?”
- “I won’t apologize to him unless he apologizes to me first!”
- “She always has to get her way!”
- “He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”
- “Things would be a lot better around here if they were gone.”
- “I’m not sorry for them—they got what they deserved!”
- “We’ve always done it this way, and if they don’t like it, they can leave!”
- “If they don’t go along with what I think, then I’ll just stop coming!”
These are not statements of love. They are statements of selfishness and pride. If those sins are not exposed to the light, it is only a short step to anger, resentment, and hatred. In God’s view, hatred is murder, and “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” So there must be repentance—a heartfelt recognition of your own failings, a real sorrow over sin. It is easier to see the sins in others, but God’s Law uncovers the sins in your own heart. You are no better than they are, and you may even be worse.
The only one who is justified in holding sins against others is God. He has done wrong to no one. He is perfect. He has the right to condemn us to eternal punishment in hell for breaking His holy Law. But God does not rain His terrors upon us and smash us with the hammer of His justice. He loves us. “God is love” (1Jo. 4:16). God loved the world in this way, “that he gave his only Son” (Joh. 3:16). He gave His only Son to be our ultimate brother.
If God has given you a brother in your family, what are the qualities you like about him? Is he a good listener? Does he often have your back? Is he thoughtful? Funny? Is he someone you can always count on? But along with all the good qualities, I’m sure there are things you do not like about your brother. Maybe he is too stubborn, or he is not assertive enough. Maybe he makes some boneheaded decisions. Maybe he let you down when you were really counting on him.
Jesus is the ultimate brother. He has never failed you, never been too busy for you. You’ve never had to wonder whether He had your best interests in mind. But He has done more than “be there for you.” Every time you disobeyed God’s commands and sinned against Him, Jesus took the fall for you. When the Law like a strict classroom teacher asks, “Who did that? Tell me right now or everyone gets punished!” Jesus raised His hand and said, “I did.”
When you spoke harshly about someone or spread gossip to harm their reputation, Jesus said, “It was Me.” When you became angry and wished harm on another, Jesus said, “I did that.” When you made excuses for why someone in need was not worthy of love, Jesus said, “Put the blame on Me.” When you did not get what you wanted, and you hardened your heart against those God has given you to love, Jesus said, “I’m the guilty one. Take it out on Me.”
And God did. God took out all His righteous anger against sin on His Son. That is why the Lord came down from heaven to be our brother in the flesh. Jesus came to suffer and die for all the wrongs we had done, as though He were the one who did them. He let Himself be condemned and despised in everyone’s place, so He could save all. Because of His sacrifice, we are no longer destined for eternal punishment but for eternal life. That is love! “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us.”
Since He has redeemed us from our hatred and our failure to love, we are now free to love in His name. We are part of His holy body by faith. Our life is hidden in His. So we don’t have to find the motivation and the strength for love inside ourselves. The gap may be too wide between us and another brother. We don’t know how we could possibly bring ourselves to reconcile. But where love is lacking in us, it is not lacking in our Savior.
We find love for others in His love for us and for them. He has died for each of our sins. Jesus has removed the division between us and the Father, and He wants to remove the divisions between us and our brothers. This requires humility and repentance and sacrifice, not just on the part of those opposed to us, but on our part. The Holy Spirit works these things in us through His Word.
He shows us how little we deserve from God, but how incredibly much He has given. He guides us to bring our frustrations and grievances before our dear Father’s throne. He brings us healing and peace through Him who sacrificed everything for us out of love. As Jesus “laid down His life for us,” the Holy Spirit now leads us to “lay down our lives for the brothers.” He leads us to share the abundant goods we have been given with a “brother in need.” He leads us to love not only “in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
We are not bound together with our brothers by our own love. Our love for each other comes from Jesus. Through His holy Word and Sacraments, He fills us again and again with His love, so we have ample love to share with one another. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psa. 133:1), when We Abide Together in Jesus’ Love.
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.
+ + +
(woodcut of the poor, the blind, and the lame being invited to the banquet from the 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 4:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who is constantly busy and active distributing the gifts of His love, dear fellow redeemed:
We know why the beggar Lazarus in the Holy Gospel for today was laid at the gate of the rich man. It is because the rich man obviously had the means to help him. But having the means to help and having the desire to help are two different things. The rich man did not care about Lazarus. He cared about his fine linens and his great feasts. This man lacked love. It is no surprise to learn that he also lacked faith. We know this because his soul went to hell when he died.
Faith and love go together. Those who have faith have love for others. Those who do not have faith do not have love for others—at least not the kind of love that God requires. The world is very confused about love. The world thinks of love as a feeling, an emotion, the thing that makes me happy. This love is not so much focused outward toward others but inward toward self. We are told to cultivate a self-love, to focus on what is self-fulfilling. And if someone does not show us the love that we require, then it is time to find another who will.
What if God defined love in this way? What if He said that He will love us only if we properly show love to Him? This is what we would think if all we had was the Law of God. The Commandments tell us to perfectly love the true God only, to perfectly honor His name, to perfectly hear and learn His Word. But we have not loved God like this. So what is stopping Him from walking away and never coming back?
He does not walk away from us, because His love for us does not depend on our love for Him. He loved us even in our fallen and rebellious state. In perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible, the apostle John records these words of Jesus about God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16).
God loved the world not because we had earned His love, as though He owed something to us. He loved the world because He is love. And He expressed that love not by making us as comfortable as He can on earth before our sad and hopeless death. He sent His only Son to redeem us, so that we have hope in this life and are saved from eternal suffering in hell.
This is the love that John refers to in today’s text when he says: “God is love.” Some take this to mean that whoever and however and whatever I choose to love, God supports me. Like a 70s hippie, God just wants us to love, man, and there are no rules or restrictions about that love. But characterizing God’s love in this way is false and blasphemous. God does not approve of our sinful behavior. He does not support the destructive things we do that go against His holy Law.
If the love I have for someone or something does not agree with the Ten Commandments, then it is not the love of God. So it is right for a man and a woman to love each other and want to serve one another. But it is not right for them to express that love in a sexual way until they are married. It is right for two men or two women to have love for each other and work on building their relationship. But it is not right for them to pursue a union of flesh. It is right to admire the nice things one’s neighbor has. But it is not right to covet those things and seek to take them.
It is so important that we recognize this. Some Christians have the idea that as long as they say they believe, then it does not matter how they live their life. They don’t like to be told that “Christians shouldn’t,” or “Christians won’t.” “No one has the right to tell me if I’m a Christian or not,” they say. “I know what I am in my heart.” But what if the rich man had called himself a good Christian? Wouldn’t it be natural to expect him to help the beggar Lazarus as God’s Commandments require? Wouldn’t his inactivity make his personal testimony questionable?
If our life is lacking in the love that God requires, and it is filled with a selfish love which God condemns, that calls our faith into question. Then what we say is totally different than how we act. Let’s say you called yourself a Bears fan, but you wore Packers gear, and you rooted for the Packers even when they played the Bears. Could that cause someone to wonder if you really were a Bears fan?
When that kind of inconsistency shows up in the life of a Christian, between what he says and what he does, this indicates a problem. In that case it would be good and loving for another Christian to warn him about the inconsistency, so that his faith is not lost. Jesus clearly tells us that it is possible to lose faith (Luk. 8:4-15). Faith is more than mere knowledge. It is not just a recitation of the facts given in the Bible. Faith grabs hold of the promises of the Gospel. It clings to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus for our righteousness and forgiveness.
Faith receives what God gives by grace. Faith does not express itself defiantly, as though a believer could never be guilty of a sin. Faith expresses itself in humble repentance for sins committed day after day, and it looks to Jesus for salvation. Only Jesus lived the life of love that God requires. He lived a life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. His life of love is why we are acceptable before the Father. His love is credited to us by faith in Him.
Where faith is alive by the grace of God, it is also active. Faith bears fruit in our lives. It is active in a Godly love. “We love because He first loved us,” writes John. This love for others is not self-serving; it is self-sacrificing. It is not pleasure-seeking; it is service-oriented. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not calloused or insensitive. It is patient and kind and generous and forgiving. That is the love God has for us, and it is the love He calls us to have for each other.
But we have not loved in this way, not always. We can all look back (and we don’t have to look very far) to see where we have failed to love like we should. So how confident can we be on the day of judgment? Will we stand before God and say that we loved as He loved us? John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Are you afraid to give an account before God of how you have loved? Are you afraid of His punishment?
The blessed truth is that we will not be judged on the last day by what we have done or failed to do. We will be judged by what Jesus did. His perfect life of love is credited to us by faith. In this way, we are just like a beggar. When a humble beggar receives a gift, he does not think about how well he has begged or how worthy he is to get something. He is simply grateful to receive. He recognizes that he has been given something that he did not have before and had no ability to get.
This is what God has done for us. He has brought to us the perfect work of Jesus—His holy life, His atoning death, His great resurrection. He doesn’t wait for us to prove our worth before He will give it. He reaches down to us through His Word and Sacraments, peels open our sin-clenched hands, and gives us blessing after blessing. He did this for the beggar Lazarus, and He does it for us. He gives us such abundant riches that there is more than enough to share with others.
Suppose someone handed a beggar a million dollars. Wouldn’t it seem harsh if he turned up his nose at his fellow beggar friends and kept his newfound wealth all to himself? In the same way, since we have received such great riches from God, why would we keep them to ourselves? How could we gratefully receive His love, but not want to show love to those around us? A faith that is alive and well by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word cannot help but extend love to others.
This is what you are prepared for in church each week. You come here to be filled up with the love of God. You come to have your bag of faith resupplied. You are filled with God’s forgiveness, His courage, His peace, and His strength. You leave here spiritually rejuvenated, blessed. Having received these gifts, your faith is ready for action. Now you see one neighbor lonely, another sad, another in pain, another racked by guilt. You know what they need. They need the love of God in Christ. So you show your love by listening to them, by caring for them, and especially by pointing them to Jesus and the undying love He has for all.
A Living Faith Is Active in Love. Your faith is alive because it is fixed on Jesus, and Jesus is most certainly alive. And because your faith is alive, it is active in love. The love you show does not have to come from some source or supply of love inside you. That kind of love often runs out. But the perfect love of your Lord for you and for others is never exhausted. As you continue to draw on His love by faith, you will never be without love for your neighbors.
+ + +
(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Festival of the Holy Trinity & Saude Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 11:33-36
In Christ Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit are worthy of eternal honor, thanks, and praise, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Alex, Avery, Layton, and Will on your Confirmation Day:
Over the last few months, the letters “SGN” have entered our vocabulary. These three letters stand for “Some Good News,” an impromptu internet show highlighting positive things happening in our country. Hundreds of years before this, the composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the three letters “SDG” on his musical manuscripts. The letters “SDG” come from the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” which is translated: To God Alone Be the Glory! So Bach, who is perhaps the greatest composer of all time (and a Lutheran by the way), wanted any glory for his achievements to go to God.
How about you? How willing would you be to put this message on the major things you accomplish? When you graduate, get a promotion, land a big contract, or are recognized for a major success, you say: To God Alone Be the Glory! How about you confirmands on this big day? Does God get the credit for everything you’ve done?
The thing is, we know how much hard work goes into the major accomplishments of our life. Shouldn’t we get some credit for these things? Even Bach must have enjoyed the accolades from those who heard his music. He must have recognized that he was producing music at a higher level than many who had come before him. So did he really mean “Soli Deo Gloria,” To God Alone Be the Glory! Or was it just an expression to make him seem more humble than he actually was?
Well that’s the struggle, isn’t it? In the big picture, we have nothing to boast about before God. He is our Creator. The universe we live in would not exist apart from Him. He made it, and He keeps it going. More personally, you and I would not exist if God had not granted us life in our mothers’ wombs. He also sustains our life. We could not accomplish much if God did not make the food grow that we eat. And what about the sun that warms us, the rain that refreshes us, the air that we breathe? When we take all these things for granted, it is easy to think we are the masters of our environment and our fate.
But if our power and abilities could fill an ice cube tray, God’s power and abilities fill the earth’s deepest trench, and then some. There is no comparison between us. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to express this difference in the words of today’s text: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” When it comes down to it, none of us has come up with one good deed, one good word, or one good thought that did not originate with God. We are copycats—and we’re not even very good ones!
Ask yourself this: What useful thing do you have that did not start with God? You would not have a house, a car, clothes, food, or any other thing without the raw materials God provides in creation. We cannot make something out of nothing. Only God can do that. And yet even though all “riches and wisdom and knowledge” come from Him, we think we can outdo Him.
We presume to know what God is thinking where He is silent in the Bible. So for example, when there seems to be a logical gap in the question of why some are saved but not others, we supply what is missing with our reason. We say that those who are saved must be a little bit better than those who are not, or that God is waiting for us to show an interest in Him. These may be reasonable explanations, but they also contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, that we are unable to go to God because of our sin. He must come all the way to us and save us.
Or we try to advise God about what He should have said more carefully in the Bible, so that no one feels judged or left out. Or we expect Him to do what we want, when we want Him to. But we are not God. We are far below Him. Paul emphasizes this by quoting from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Job: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” (Isa. 40:13, Job 41:11).
Then he writes, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” It is no mistake that Paul uses three prepositions to describe the Lord’s work: “from,” “through,” and “to.” He also spoke about God’s “riches and wisdom and knowledge”—three things. This use of three is by design, because the one God consists of three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The work of each Person is emphasized here in this text.
All things come to us from God the Father. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He made and continues to produce all the riches we see around us. We notice this especially in springtime, when our fields and gardens fill with growing green plants, and the flowers and leaves emerge again after the wintertime. But an even greater gift has come to us from the Father. He has given us His only Son to save us. This is where we see the exceedingly deep love that the Father has for us. Martin Luther wrote in one of his hymns: “He gave His dearest Treasure” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #378, v. 4).
All these riches from the Father come to us through God the Son. The book of Proverbs describes the Son as God’s Wisdom, who was with the Father “before the beginning of the earth” (Pro. 8:22). He fully participated with the Father in creation. “[A]ll things were made through Him” (Joh. 1:3). Any physical life that exists or could exist came through Him. The same is true of our spiritual life. We could have no spiritual life apart from His suffering and death in our place. Forgiveness and life and salvation come through Him and through Him alone.
These many blessings we have from the Father and through the Son lead us to look to the Lord in confidence and thanksgiving by the power of God the Holy Spirit. He brings us the saving knowledge of the true God through the holy Word. Without the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word, we would not know the Son or the Father. He has enlightened our minds and hearts. He has revealed the “secret and hidden wisdom of God,” the deep things about our salvation through Jesus (1Co. 2:7ff.). He strengthens the faith He has given, so that we are drawn closer and closer to the Holy God and our eternity with Him.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” That means that the glory for all things belongs to Him, (including all those long hours of study in Catechism Class). Every good thing we have and accomplish comes to us by the power and grace of our merciful God. He does not have to bless us, as though He owes it to us. “[W]ho has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” But He loves us with a love that is so broad and long and high and deep that it cannot be measured.
He loves to supply all the things we need. In our spiritual poverty, foolishness, and ignorance, God provides His riches, wisdom, and knowledge. Where we have amassed a debt of sin before Him—all those times in life that we failed to spend ourselves in righteousness—He does not gives us the wages for our sin. He gives us the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Since the time we became believers, we have been credited with Jesus’ perfect life. When God the Father looks at us, He does not see our failures anymore; He sees us filled with the good works of Jesus.
All of this is foolishness to the world, and sometimes it may seem foolish to us. How could all of our sins and misdeeds be taken away just like that? The world is not impressed by grace; the world respects money and power and human ingenuity and fame. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1Co. 1:27). Our boasting is not in what we might accomplish, but in Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30).
This knowledge of our salvation through Jesus is imparted to us and grows in us every time we hear the saving Word and partake of the Sacraments Jesus instituted. We rejoice that our confirmands will now join us at the Communion rail to eat and drink the true body and blood of Jesus for their forgiveness and strengthening. This is not the day that our confirmands “graduate” from studying God’s Word. They are just getting started. They have a lifetime ahead of them to continue to gain “the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” The same is true for each and every one of us here. God never grows tired of giving us His gifts through His Holy Word.
What the Triune God has done and still does for us is “SGN”—“Some Good News.” We are His dear children. He has not given us what we deserved. He has given us everything by grace and given it in abundance. For this reason, we give thanks to His name. Like J. S. Bach, we write “SDG” on the manuscript of our lives: “Soli Deo Gloria.” The glory for all the good that we have and do is His alone, and His for all eternity.
+ + +
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who casts out the net of His Word, so that more and more sinners might be drawn to Him in repentance and faith, dear fellow redeemed:
You and I have had moments like the fishermen in today’s text. These experienced men worked through the night, but they did not catch anything. In the same way, we can think of many times that we expended great effort and had nothing to show for it. Maybe it was spending hours upon hours training and practicing for a competition and then coming in last. Or maybe it was staying up late to get the crop in only to have it wash out in the next storm. Or maybe it was pouring time into forming and fine-tuning a plan that ultimately got discarded.
Those experiences are disheartening. All that work for nothing! This is when we feel like it is hard to get ahead—“one step forward, two steps back.” It may even feel like God is opposed to us at these times. Here we are spending all this energy in our work, pursuing things that are good as far as we can tell, and we don’t get anywhere. Why doesn’t God bless us?
But what we don’t know is that God may be protecting us from harm due to our success, harm that could come from materialism or power or fame. Or it may be that He allows failure today, so that He can give even bigger blessings tomorrow. That was the case with the fishermen. He kept them from catching fish during the night, from finding success through their skilled labor, so that He might demonstrate His power and mercy.
They had been fishing in the best spots at the best time of day, and they failed. Then Jesus sent them out again to a poorer spot at a worse time, and their nets were filled! So we see what the Lord can do. I’m sure you could give examples of His goodness working in your life. There were times that you thought you would fail, and you succeeded. You had given up hope, and help came through. The Lord knows how to bless us, and He does it in ways we could not expect.
The disciples looked at their full nets and sinking boats, and you can just imagine the looks on their faces – eyes wide, jaws hitting the floor. Then a new sensation washed over Peter. He realized that this Man with him in the boat was not just a man. An ordinary man could not predict this monstrous haul of fish where seasoned fisherman had been working all night. Peter now felt guilt. He was in the presence of the holy Lord, but he himself was not holy. “Depart from me,” he said, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
If Jesus had abandoned Peter and all sinful men, He could have had no disciples, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Instead Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Then Peter and his associates James and John left everything—including that great catch of fish—and followed Jesus. What is a whole load of fish compared with the One who gives those fish simply by saying a word?
But suppose those disciples could look into the future at that point. Suppose they could preview what following Jesus would mean up to the day of His death. Would they have been as eager to go with Him? They could look ahead and see things like the great crowds, the amazing miracles, and Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. But they would also see times when food would be scarce and sleep hard to come by. They would see the opposition of the religious leaders and the anger of the people. They would see that after three years of hard work traveling all over the region, Jesus would be arrested, tried, and crucified. And they, His own disciples, would forsake Him and run away. If they could have seen all that, would they have still gone with Him?
What about you? If you could see your whole life play out in front of you all the way to your death, would you follow Jesus today? Would you follow Him today if you saw how people would take advantage of you in the future, how they would attack you and harm you? Would you follow Him today if you saw how your family would struggle, and how you would lose those closest to you? Would you follow Him today if you saw how your body would break down and how you would struggle physically and mentally?
As enjoyable as it would be to see the good things of our life all at once, it would be terrifying to see all the bad things at once. If we could see all the bad things in advance, we might wonder if the Lord actually cared about us, or if He was actually present with us in this life. It is good that we do not have this view. It is not for us to know these things. No matter what the future may hold, Jesus calls us to follow Him one step at a time.
This is how a toddler learns how to walk. He is not motivated by the marathon he may run in his 20s or 30s. He just wants to go! He wants to get from here to there, and he thinks he might get there faster by walking than by crawling. He cannot see how his running around will lead to bumps and bruises. He is not worried about the broken bones in his future. He is not troubled by the effects of aging which eventually will turn his stride into a shuffle. He just goes!
This is what you and I are called to do: go forward. We can’t go back. We must go forward doing the work God has given us to do. Our work is to be constantly occupied in showing love to our neighbors. This starts with the neighbors living in each of our homes—our parents, our siblings, our spouse, our children—and it branches out from there. We show love in our interactions with others in our place of work, in the community, on the internet, and in our congregations.
We know how this love should look and how it should be carried out, because we have the example of Jesus. Think about how kids play “Follow the Leader.” It is not just about walking over the same ground as the leader, but it is even mimicking his steps. If he takes a big step, so do the followers. If he hops from one place to another, so do they. Our goal as disciples of Jesus is to mimic Him in every way. We want to love one another as He loved us. We want to give to one another as He gives to us.
But as much as we want to do this, our steps often falter. The apostle Paul described our stumbling because of sin in this way: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19). Jesus takes one step forward, and we take two steps back. He beckons us forward, and we retreat. He calls us to be courageous, and we wilt.
We are not much like Jesus. We are more like Peter, uncertain how casting out our nets in the middle of the day will do any good. Like Peter, we are afraid because we underestimate the power and mercy of the Lord. Like Peter, we are aware of our many sins. It is hard to follow Jesus when we perceive so many obstacles in front of us and inside of us.
But Jesus is greater than any sins or trials or sorrows we may face. Unlike us, He could see all the suffering that was waiting for Him. Still He stayed focused on His mission. He followed His Father’s will all the way to the punishments and torments of the cross. It was terrible work He had to do. It meant immeasurable pain for Him, while the very ones He came to save mocked, blasphemed, and abandoned Him.
He moved forward one agonizing step at a time because the salvation of your soul was that important to Him. He willingly died in your place because He wanted you to live. He wanted you to be freed from all your sins and covered in His holiness. He wanted to deliver you a good conscience, one that is not focused on your sins of the past but on His grace in the present.
This is why you follow Jesus. He is more than your example of love. He is your Savior. He is your Lord who died for you to secure the forgiveness of all your sins. If He was willing to do this for you, He will certainly not forget your daily needs. Your hard work may not always seem to pay off, but He will bless your efforts done in His name. In time, you will see that you have received more blessings from His hand than you could have hoped for.
Jesus does not ask us to endure the sorrows and struggles of life all at once, or to go through any of them alone. He calls us to hear His Word, like the crowd did by the lake of Gennesaret, and like Peter did when told to let down the nets. His Word is sure and will never steer us wrong. Through His Word, the Lord is guiding us through the perils and troubles of this life all the way to heaven. Hearing His voice, We Follow Jesus One Step at a Time.
+ + +
(painting 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 looks upon us not as we deserve but according to His grace, dear fellow redeemed:
We can all think of people who have no business pointing out the sins in others. Their sins are so obvious and clear that they are in no position to judge what anyone else does. Jesus talks about the log in a person’s eye. It’s quite a picture. Imagine a long plank sticking out of someone’s eye. But suppose the person did not notice it was there. He shows up at a party and starts talking about what is wrong with other people—how they look, how annoying they are, how he has everything together, and how they could learn a lot from him.
He does not understand why everyone wants to keep their distance, and why they get so angry whenever he shows up. That eye log is a hindrance to personal interaction! It pops people on the nose and smacks them on the side of the face whenever he turns his head. He complains about everyone blaming him. Why don’t they watch where they are going and give him more space?
It’s a ridiculous scenario. How could a person not know that a big log is sticking out of his eye? How could he not notice that? The problem with this guy is that he does not understand his problem. He thinks everyone around him is at fault for his feelings of rejection and discomfort. He is the victim. If everyone around him changed, he would be happier, and he assumes they would be too.
What Jesus is teaching about here is self-righteousness, about not being aware of one’s own glaring sins. A self-righteous person is a person who believes he is holy through his own efforts. It makes sense that Jesus would warn the Pharisees and scribes about this because they thought they were right with God through their keeping of the law. They did not realize how far they had fallen short. They were very prideful.
But Jesus did not speak the words of today’s text to the Pharisees and scribes. He spoke them to “His disciples” (Luk. 6:20), to those who believed in Him and followed Him. He told these disciples to take the logs out of their own eyes. He even called them “hypocrites”! This shows that Jesus was not afraid to criticize His followers. But He wasn’t doing it out of spite; it was out of love.
Jesus wanted His followers to see their own weakness and to understand the sinful condition of all descendants of Adam and Eve. He could speak in this way because He was without sin. He had been conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and was therefore free of original sin. He fully understood temptation to sin, but He committed no sin Himself.
He told His disciples to guard against the self-righteousness that was part of their sinful nature. They needed to hear the condemning words of the law, so that they would be humbled and cry out for God’s grace. They needed to see that they were no better than anyone else around them, either the Jews or the Gentiles.
The same goes for us. We are no better than anyone else, but the devil and our sinful nature try to convince us that we are. They tempt us to measure our righteousness by how much holier we are than others. But it isn’t a fair comparison. We typically do not look at others the same way that we look at ourselves. We see their sins more clearly than we see our own sins. We are much more ready to overlook our faults than the faults of others.
So it might be easy for me to justify telling a lie, but I come down harshly on others who do the same. Or I might be critical of a mess someone made, but I am totally unwilling to acknowledge my own messes. Self-righteousness is holding someone’s feet to the fire for a $100 debt, while being unconcerned about your own $100,000 debt. Self-righteousness is being eager to offer criticism but being totally unwilling to receive criticism.
Our self-righteousness is the reason Jesus reminds us to “be merciful,” to “judge not,” to “condemn not,” to “forgive,” and to “give.” He wants us to be humble and regard others as better than ourselves (Phi. 2:3). He wants us to look into the mirror of His holy law and see our many sins in that reflection. He wants us to repent of these sins and look to Him for forgiveness and for help to love our neighbors.
But showing love to our neighbors does not mean ignoring their sin altogether or confirming them in their sin. One of the most-quoted Bible passages in our day is: “Judge not.” Another version of this is the statement: “Only God can judge me.” These phrases are usually brought out when a person does not want to be questioned for his behavior or lifestyle choices. So what can you say when someone throws your words of caution or warning back in your face?
Let’s say that you find out your co-worker has been stealing from your employer. You call him on it, and he responds, “Who do you think you are? Are you so perfect? I thought Jesus said not to judge other people!” What do you say? Maybe his point sounds valid, and you let the issue go. But how is that loving to your co-worker, much less to your employer? A good way forward is to accept what your co-worker says without approving of the sin. You could say, “You’re right. I’m not perfect, far from it. I’ve sinned as much as anyone I know. But that does not mean I have to go along with something that is wrong or act like it isn’t happening.”
If your neighbors think you are criticizing them because you believe you are so good, they will avoid you like the people avoiding the guy at the party with the log in his eye. But if they see your humble spirit and know that you care about them, they will be much more ready to listen to what you say. They might not accept your criticism right away. They might even be angry with you. But in time they hopefully will see that you said what you did out of love for them.
Our goal in warning and correcting others is not to elevate ourselves in their eyes, as though they should be more like us. Our goal is to point them to Jesus. Jesus is the one solution to our problem of self-righteousness and sin. If we think we are so good compared to others, we should try comparing ourselves to Jesus. Then we see that our righteousness is nothing. We have not come close to loving as He loved and sacrificing as He sacrificed.
Our righteousness compared to His is like the light of a match compared to the light of the sun. Our righteousness—if it is truly righteousness—can light up just a tiny corner of this dark world. The light of His righteousness fills the earth and the heavens. His holy life under the law was so pure, so flawless, that it was able to cover over the unrighteousness of all sinners.
This perfect holiness was placed upon you when you were baptized, and it continues to cover you now. What good is it to keep a tally of your own good deeds or compare your life with others when Jesus’ righteousness is yours? We would rather lose all glory and honor in the world, all recognition and fame, than to lose Jesus’ righteousness. He is our perfection that the law demands. He is the fulfillment of all righteousness for us.
He is also the atonement for our sins. We have not always been merciful and forgiving and generous. We have not always been humble in our dealings with others. We have not always perceived the log in our own eye. But Jesus, with clear vision and perfect focus, walked the way of the cross for us.
He had no log in His eye, but He did have one on His back as He made His way to Golgotha. He was nailed to that log—the cross with all our transgressions—and He died for the sins of all, for the self-righteous, the prideful, and the unrepentant. By the shedding of His blood, Jesus atoned for every single one of your sins and mine. God the Father poured out the full measure of His wrath on His Son, so that the good measure of His grace and forgiveness would be “pressed down, shaken together, running over” and “put into [our] lap.”
We need this forgiveness every day because we continue to sin against our neighbors. We sin against them by hoping for their harm and failing to offer them our help. There is something in our eye, just as there is something in every sinner’s eye. But the Lord’s absolution, His free forgiveness, removes the logs and specks from our eyes. His grace clears up our vision, so that we see Jesus and everything He did to save us.
Seeing Jesus more clearly also helps us to see our neighbors more clearly. Our neighbors need mercy like we need mercy. They need forgiveness like we need forgiveness. They need help like we need help. And the Lord is eager to give these blessings to everyone. He blesses them through our efforts, and He often causes those blessings to return to us in good measure.
Jesus’ command to love our neighbor more and better than we have is hard for us to hear. It is painful to have the logs of self-righteousness removed from our eye. But He does this so that we look away from ourselves and any good things we might do and look toward Him. In Him we will always find righteousness, salvation, and the strength to live for His glory.
+ + +
(“The Parable of the Mote and the Beam” by Ottmar Elliger the Younger, 1666-1735)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 15:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who “is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2Pe. 3:9), dear fellow redeemed:
You don’t realize how much a music soundtrack and sound effects change the movie-watching experience until the sound is removed. Without sound, an action sequence is not as impressive, and a scene of suspense is not as compelling. Sound makes the image much more powerful and impactful.
When our thoughts turn toward heaven, and we imagine what heaven is like, I think we often picture heaven without much sound. We might imagine shouts of joy when family members and friends are reunited there. But otherwise, we may think of a peaceful setting, something like a walk through a meadow or time spent by a river or lake.
Heaven is a bit noisier than that. Isaiah wrote about the angels in heaven calling to one another in voices powerful enough to shake “the foundations of the thresholds.” They say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3-4). The apostle John wrote about heaven being filled with the sound of trumpets and described “flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder” coming from the throne (Rev. 4:5). He said the “Holy, holy, holy” cry does not cease day or night, and the twenty-four elders respond with their own song of praise (4:8-11). The saints in heaven also join in these songs of praise. John speaks about hearing “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns!’” (19:6).
What we hear in heaven will far surpass what is produced by the greatest musicians and singers here on earth. Unlike here, the sounds that come from our mouths in heaven will always be beautiful and holy and right. There is no imperfection in heaven. That includes imperfections in our singing and hearing.
I expect that in heaven, we will be able to detect and appreciate layers of sound unknown to us now. Just think of those trumpets and rumblings and shouts and singing blending together in a rich and holy song that our ears will never tire of hearing. Four-part harmony will not impress us in heaven like it does here. Maybe heaven will feature forty-part harmony or four-hundred-part harmony.
But why this emphasis today on the sounds of heaven? It is because Jesus says in today’s text that “there will be more joy in heaven/there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” A celebration without sound wouldn’t be much of a celebration, no matter how amazing it looks. When a sinner repents, the halls of heaven ring with the sound of thanksgiving—thanksgiving to God for His abundant grace.
But why is it that repentance causes this reaction? Repentance is not something the world celebrates. The world celebrates things like birthdays, graduations, promotions at work, and the purchase of a home. The world has even taken to celebrating when a person dies, focusing on happy memories of that person’s life because it cannot bear to face the reality of death. The saints and angels in heaven do not celebrate these things, as significant as they may seem to us here. They celebrate our repentance. And if that is what the saints and angels celebrate around God’s throne, this must be what God celebrates too.
So what exactly is this repentance? The word for “repent” means “to change one’s mind,” “to turn back.” We change our minds all the time, such as what we want to eat or what we want to do with our day. But the repentance Jesus talks about here is a spiritual turning, a spiritual changing of the mind. This is necessary because the unconverted mind, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God,” as Scripture says; “it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom. 8:7).
The first table of God’s law demands that we love Him “with all [our] mind” (Mat. 22:37). The second table demands that we “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” (v. 39). No human being born of a sinful father and mother has done these things, because each person has inherited the sin of his parents, passed down through the generations all the way from Adam and Eve. By nature, we are opposed to God; we do not want to live by His rules. We want to make our own rules. We are self-centered and selfish. In this state, we are ruled by the devil and are stuck in his kingdom of darkness without any way of getting ourselves out.
But the merciful Lord is firmly invested in freeing us from this hopeless life. God the Father sent His eternal Son to enter the fallen world and lead us into His marvelous light. That is easier said than done! In order to free us from our chains of sin and death, Jesus had to pay the price. He had to pay the debt we owed by shedding His holy blood and giving Himself up to the jaws of death. This was the only way to satisfy the Father’s wrath against sin. It was the only way to overcome the devil’s hold on sinners.
His saving work was done for all sinners, but not all sinners believe it. It is a mystery to us why some hear the Word of God and repent, while others hear the Word but do not repent. We are all equally sinful. We are all equally lost in the darkness by nature. None of us deserves to be forgiven by God. But by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word, some are converted. Some are led to repentance and faith.
If we think that our conversion must depend in some way on ourselves, today’s text—among many others—says otherwise. Jesus describes a sheep that wandered away, referring to a person who has wandered away from God into sin. The shepherd does not sit around waiting for the sheep to come back on its own. He goes after it. And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it to safety. That does not sound like cooperation in conversion.
But for those who would say that the sheep could possibly have returned on its own, what about the next example Jesus gave? How likely is it that a lost coin by its own power could roll itself back into the purse of its owner? Ephesians 2 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv. 8-9).
When the Holy Spirit turns back the sinner from the path of destruction and works a spiritual change in his mind and heart, this is when heaven erupts in celebration. We can’t always know when this celebration happens. It certainly happens when a baby is baptized and when an adult confesses the true faith. But in some cases, a person’s confession is not honest, and his repentance is not heartfelt. The Bible tells us there are some who may appear to be model Christians, but who live otherwise than they confess, or who think otherwise than they say.
It is one thing to fall into sin unintentionally. Maybe you got caught up in a crowd that behaved badly. Or you stumbled across something you were not seeking out but which led you to sin. This can happen when you spend time on the internet or look for something to watch on TV. Or maybe unkind, impure, or judgmental thoughts enter your mind about another person, and you are immediately sorry for thinking in those ways. These sins are not faith-destroying, and God will help us fight these temptations.
But intentionally and willfully doing what God condemns can and does destroy faith. Christians are not immune to these sins. In fact the devil works harder to pull us from the faith than he works on those who are already in darkness. Some Christians fall into sin and instead of acknowledging the sin—even if the consequences would be severe—they try to cover them up, hide them. But nothing can be hidden from God, and what the unrepentant will face on the last day is far worse than anything they might experience here.
All of us have need of repentance. We sin many times every day. We have all done things we knew were wrong, but we did them anyway—and often more than once. None of us is righteous. But the Lord is gracious. He works to bring us back when we fall into sin. Like those tax collectors and sinners, the Lord moves us to repent through His law, and He draws us near to hear His Word of grace. He wants us to know that all our sin is forgiven, all the things that trouble our conscience and make us feel ashamed. All of it was set on Jesus, who suffered and died in our place so that we might live.
The Good Shepherd loves to hear us humbly repent of our sins and rejoice in His forgiveness. We are ones whom He has brought back from our wanderings, and whom He still brings back. Through daily repentance, He leads us again and again to the still waters of our Baptism and guides us to the green pastures of His Word and Sacrament. These great spiritual blessings which God showers down upon us are a cause for continuous celebration in heaven.
We do not see or hear the saints and angels in their songs of praise, but by faith in Jesus we are already counted in their number. We join these songs of praise imperfectly here on earth as we thank God for His mercy toward us. And we look forward to being among the great host in heaven, where we will forever rejoice in the Lord’s great love for us.
+ + +
(portion of “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 both invites us to the banquet of salvation and provides the life-giving food our souls need, dear fellow redeemed:
Day in and day out, there are various tasks and responsibilities on your mind that want your attention. But you can only do so much. You have to make decisions about what has priority. Listen to these examples and think which one would take priority over the other in your life:
- Your son or daughter asks you to play with them, but you were planning to get some work done. Which do you choose?
- You were looking forward to enjoying some peace and quiet, but your neighbor comes over looking for help.
- You and your spouse are heading out the door on a date when a distressed friend calls asking if you have time to talk.
- Your boss offers overtime hours on Sunday morning and begs you to come, but you would have to miss church.
These decisions are not always easy. Often we must choose between two things that are both good or important.
The men invited to the great banquet found themselves in this position. They had been invited to the banquet, but no specific day had been set. They were told that when everything was ready, they would be notified. When the time for the banquet arrived, the host sent out his servant to inform the guests. Apparently, the banquet came at a bad time. The first man said he had just made a land purchase and had to go see it. The next man said he had just finalized the purchase of five yoke of oxen and had to examine them. The third said he had just gotten married and was needed at home.
The things they mentioned were all good things. They had to make a choice between important events in their lives and the invitation to the banquet. They chose to skip the banquet. But this was no backyard barbecue. This was “a great banquet,” a feast that wouldn’t come around all that often. It was a big enough deal that the honored guests were given notice a long time before the banquet occurred. They were expected to make it a priority. Instead excuses were made. Things that could have waited were given precedence.
This parable is not about an actual earthly banquet that people decided to skip out on. It is about the spiritual banquet of salvation, which was promised ever since the fall into sin. The invitation to this banquet first went out to Adam and Eve. They were told that One would come from woman, who would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). From that point on, any who heard the promise of salvation were receiving an invitation to attend the banquet. It was not known when the table would be set and the feasting would begin. But those who had heard the promise, who had received the invitation, were to be ready whenever that day should come.
But how long could God expect them to wait? If enough time passed between the original promise and its fulfillment, isn’t it natural that the people would wonder if the banquet was still on? This is why the LORD sent His servants the prophets to repeat the promise and give more details about how it would be fulfilled. You can find these promises sprinkled throughout the Old Testament, all of them pointing ahead to the great banquet.
But not all of God’s chosen people believed this promise. The Israelites were certainly all invited to the banquet, but many of them became more concerned about their business than God’s business. The religious leaders were often the worst offenders. They taught the people to focus on outward works more than the inner righteousness of a believing heart. They weren’t so concerned about the banquet of salvation, because they thought they had a nice feast of good works going on their own.
These were the ones making excuses when Jesus arrived. Why should they listen to Him? What were they lacking? What could He give them that they could not do for themselves? Their rejection of the invitation angered the Lord. He commanded that “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” be brought to His banquet. These were the Jewish people who were thought to be rejected by God. The Lord’s mercy went out to them—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the demon-possessed. Many of these heard His Word and received the invitation to salvation with penitent and believing hearts.
Still, there was room at the banquet. So the servant was sent “to the highways and hedges” to “compel people to come in.” These were the ones outside the city. They were the Gentiles who had not had the invitation brought to them through the Old Testament Scriptures. Even they were now welcome at the banquet of salvation by faith, and many of them have taken their seat at the table.
You also have received an invitation to the great banquet. For many of you, this invitation came at your baptism. At that time you were washed of your sins, faith was planted in your heart, and you were joined to the body of Christ. Your seat at the banquet table was reserved. But baptism does not ensure that an honored place at the table will always be yours.
There are many who had God’s wonderful gifts handed to them at baptism, who now despise these gifts. They give many other things priority over God’s Word. Like the first man in the parable, they get so caught up in obtaining, improving, and enjoying their property, that they decide there is no time for spiritual things. Like the second man, they are so concerned about expanding their possessions and growing their riches that work always comes before the Word. Like the third man, they use the excuse of family. “We don’t have enough time already to do everything the kids need to do! There just isn’t time for devotions during the week or church on the weekend!”
This is why keeping our priorities in the right order is so important. Land and possessions are good. Work is good. Family is good. But none of these is to take precedence over the Word. Just after today’s parable Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk. 14:26). This smacks us right in the face. It is shocking. Jesus says that nothing—not our parents, not our spouse, not our kids, not our siblings, not our goals and goods and health—should come before Him and His Word.
This troubles us, both because of what Jesus asks of us and because we have obviously fallen far short of His demand. We made church our priority this morning, but we have many excuses to own from our past. We have made excuses for the times we have willingly done what God condemns. We have made excuses for why we have acted selfishly at work, why we have ignored and neglected those in our household, and why there just isn’t time to regularly study God’s Word.
And yet despite all these excuses, these misplaced priorities, the Lord’s invitation still echoes in our ears, “Come, for everything is now ready.” He wants us to be at the banquet of salvation. He wants us to feast on the rich food He supplies. We are not in the Old Testament era wondering when God’s promise will be fulfilled. His promise has been fulfilled! Jesus has come!
When Jesus appeared, He made no excuses for mankind’s sin. He spoke about it plainly. And when the time came for Him to suffer and die for all this sin, He went forward willingly. He didn’t excuse Himself when the anguish and pain became most intense. He invited the Father’s anger and wrath against sin. He let the fires of hell torch Him. He did that for you and me. He did that so all our sins would be forgiven.
The forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus won for us is the main course in the great banquet. It is what you are given when the pastor speaks the absolution in the divine service. It is what you receive when you eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood in His Supper. The Lord is not stingy with these gifts. He offers them in abundance at all times. They are for your spiritual nourishment and comfort every single day.
Your feasting at the banquet of salvation here through Word and Sacrament prepares you for the eternal feasting to come. Your continuance in the faith here is what keeps a seat reserved for you at the heavenly table. No one who rejects the invitation of the Gospel here on earth will enter heaven, including those who may be baptized but who no longer believe. When an unbeliever stands before the Lord on Judgment Day, he will have no more excuses. He will not escape the fires of hell.
But all who believe and are baptized will be excused from that suffering. They will leave the Church Militant where they walk by faith, and they will enter the Church Triumphant where they will see and experience all the glorious things God has prepared for those who love Him.
You can be sure that you will be among the guests at the Lord’s heavenly banquet, because your salvation is not based on anything you could do. God invited you to this banquet because Jesus redeemed you from your sin through His suffering and death, and the Holy Spirit worked saving faith in your heart through this Gospel message. You have not always made God and His Word your priority, but His priority has always been clear. Your Salvation Is God’s Priority. “Come, for everything is now ready,” He says—“everything is now ready” for you.
+ + +
(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 Festival of the Holy Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 3:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who became the Son of Man that we might join Him as sons of God and heirs of eternal life (Gal. 4:4-7), dear fellow redeemed:
Most kids believe—at least for a time—that no one is stronger than their own dad. Dad can lift them off the ground with one arm. Dad can pick up things that no one else can budge. Dad can open jars that Mom can’t. In their eyes, he is very impressive. But as they get older, kids realize that some other guys might actually be stronger than Dad. They become aware of their dad’s limitations, and not just the physical ones. Dad sometimes gets distracted and misses important things in their lives. He doesn’t always seem to understand what they are going through. He isn’t always right there when they need him.
Dad can do a lot of things. But he isn’t all-powerful. For his part, he feels the pressure to be what those around him need him to be. He faces the demands—spoken or unspoken—of providing for his wife and children. Others outside his household like his relatives, friends, and co-workers might also look to him for support. People rely on him the way he used to rely on his dad. He doesn’t always feel ready for the responsibility. He is well aware of his shortcomings.
You know as well as I do that there is no such thing on earth as a perfect father. We admire those men who seem to be excellent fathers. We see others who more or less fulfill their duties to their family. And then there are some who do not seem fit to be fathers at all. Some of these fathers harm their children or abandon them. For these children, it can be difficult to put their trust and confidence in God the Father. Their perception of God as Father is colored by their experience with their earthly father.
But God the Father does not take His cue from earthly fathers; earthly fathers are to take their cue from Him. The heavenly Father is the pattern for fatherhood. He did not learn fatherhood from anyone. He had no father. But in His infinite wisdom, God established fatherhood on earth after His image.
God does not model the sort of fatherhood that the world likes to see. The world does not praise fathers who stand up for godly truth and honor. They praise the fathers who fan the flame of their children’s ego, who keep their mouths shut when their sons and daughters behave immorally, who might offer a shoulder to cry on but no words of wisdom. There are many who even portray God in this way. “God loves me just the way I am,” they say. “He doesn’t judge me, and He is always there when I need Him.” But that is not the God of the Bible.
The God of the Bible loves us, no question about it. But He does not love everything we do and every choice we make. To the contrary, He firmly rebukes our sin. He does not overlook it or act as though it is not that bad. And if we refuse to repent of our sin, He warns us of the eternal hellfire that will come upon any who reject His Word.
The seriousness with which He looks upon our sin is made clear by the sacrifice required to save us. God the Father did not send His only-begotten Son into the world so that Jesus could pat everyone on the back for choosing to live life their own way. He sent His Son to suffer and die for our sins in our place.
But how could a Father sacrifice His only Son? Did He think so little of His Son? Some have suggested that the punishment and wrath the Father poured out on His Son at Golgotha was really a form of “divine child abuse.” Was that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, that the Father was an overbearing tyrant who forced His Son toward horrible suffering and death?
That is hardly how Jesus portrayed it. The night before His death, He told His disciples, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (Joh. 14:31). And again, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:9-10). And in a prayer directly to the Father, Jesus said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24).
That does not sound like a Son who is forced to do something against His will. Even in the midst of severe anguish, Jesus did not lash out at His Father as though His Father were manipulating Him. He said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42).
God the Father sent His Son to do the terrible work of atoning for sin, because His Son could do it. His beloved Son could carry that load and still reclaim the glory that was His from eternity. He could win the victory over sin, death, and devil and still return to the right hand of the Father. God could do for man what man could never do for himself.
Jesus made this abundantly clear to Nicodemus, the teacher-turned-student in today’s Gospel lesson. Nicodemus started the conversation by saying, “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.” Was this flattery? Was it an invitation for Jesus to tell more about Himself? Was Nicodemus trying to sound smart?
Jesus replied that whatever the Jewish leaders thought they knew about God, they knew much less than they realized. Jesus was not some mystery they could solve. He was not some code they could crack. Their human wisdom was not going to cut it. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus was not talking about the need for a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.
This spiritual rebirth does not happen by any human effort or through a free human will, contrary to what many Christians today think. They say that “being born again” means making a decision for Jesus and opening one’s heart to Him. Jesus says this rebirth happens through “water and the Spirit,” through Baptism. The Holy Spirit accomplishes this and not human flesh. A translation just as valid as “born again” is that one must be “born from above.”
God must do this—He must regenerate and renew us—because we cannot do this for ourselves. We cannot do this by the strength of our bodies or minds, or by the power of our will. If this were possible, Jesus wouldn’t say what He does in today’s text: “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven.” Because we are not able to go up to God, God comes down to us.
But why does He do this? Why does the Father send His Son, by His side from all eternity, to be sacrificed for sinners, whose legacy is stained and whose lives are fleeting? God does this out of love for His rebellious children. He did not walk away when mankind thought more highly of the forbidden fruit than His command. He did not destroy them in His anger which He could have done. Instead He promised to join them in their anguish, to be with them in their troubles, and to free them again from their chains of sin and death.
But not all recognize or care about their Father’s love. They are like those who reject their earthly fathers because their father does not give them everything they want or let them do what they want to do. Like those who do not “honor [their] father and mother” as the LORD commands them to do, so unbelievers do not honor the LORD and “fear, love, and trust in [Him] above all things” (Small Catechism).
But those who do recognize their sin and who trust that the Son of Man came to be lifted up on the cross for their sake, can be certain that they are in good graces with their Father in heaven. He loves all who cherish and pay attention to His holy Word (Joh. 14:23). He promises to pour upon them the blessings of His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. This starts at Baptism when the holy life and cleansing blood of Jesus are applied to the sinner, and it continues throughout life as these gifts are administered through His gracious Word and Sacraments.
Through these means, He strengthens us and helps us follow His example of love and sacrifice in our various stations in life—fathers in their fatherhood, mothers in their mothering, children in their obedience, and all of us in our lives of service. None of us carries out these duties perfectly, and we are only too aware how we have fallen short. But God has promised to abide with us and to bring blessings to those around us even through our weak and faltering efforts.
No one on earth does everything right. No one can fix every problem. No one can save his own soul, much less the souls of others. God Does What We Cannot Do. He is our perfect Father, whose will was carried out by His righteous Son, whose rich blessings are distributed by the Holy Spirit. This God is the only true God. He is our God, and we are His children.
+ + +
(portion of painting, “Good Friday Morning: Jesus in Prison” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)