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.
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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(painting of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Third Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 10:11-16
In Christ Jesus, who leads us to the green pastures and still waters of His Word, dear fellow redeemed:
She filled out the application, and everything was going smoothly until she came to this question: “Do you see yourself more as a leader or a follower?” She figured the “right” answer was to put down that she is a leader. But that isn’t really how she saw herself. It’s not that she was some kind of pushover. She just didn’t feel comfortable stepping out on her own and taking the lead. She was content to have someone else lead, and she would gladly follow.
So that’s how she answered. She turned in the application and figured her chances were slim to none. To her surprise, a call came the very next day. “We have reviewed your application,” they said. “Of all the applicants, you are the only one who expressed a willingness to follow. We appreciate your humility and honesty, and we think you will fit right in here.”
Why would just one applicant call herself a “follower,” while all the rest called themselves “leaders”? This comes from confusion about what leadership is. Leadership does not mean being yourself, having a strong personality, and pursuing your passions no matter what. That kind of approach typically results in self-service, not leadership. Leadership requires humility and sacrifice. The woman filling out the application showed strong leadership qualities by setting aside her ego and pride.
Our culture is not in the business of making good leaders. It encourages people to put themselves first and to do whatever makes them happy. It tells them they don’t have to bow to someone else’s standards or listen to anybody else. They can chart their own course. They can make their own rules.
This way of thinking has had significant impacts on the community and the home. You have probably heard people talk about how their neighborhood has changed through the years. It used to be that neighbors socialized with each other. But now they generally keep to themselves. And families used to sit down together at the dinner table every day. But now each person’s busy schedule keeps this from happening. It isn’t that people have less time than they used to. Time is the same now as it has always been. What has changed is how people choose to spend their time.
How people choose to spend their time is often guided by the trends in society. A man is seen as successful when he can afford a nice home and car and possessions. A woman is seen as successful when she can climb the corporate ladder and earn the respect of others. What does that mean for family life? It is often not the priority. A father might be more interested in retreating to his “man cave” after a long day of work instead of being the man of the house who leads his family in devotions and Christian discipline. A mother might look at her duties at home as a distraction or as less important than what she gets paid to do.
But our communities and homes do not need more people who excel in the workplace and can buy lots of nice things. Our communities and homes need dedicated fathers and mothers, grandfather and grandmothers, caring mentors, and good neighbors. Our communities and homes need true leaders, who lead by making sacrifices and serving those around them.
Our awareness of the needs of our neighbor is directly related to the awareness of our own needs. If we are convinced that we can do everything on our own and that we don’t need anybody’s help, we will probably treat the people around us in the same way. We will expect them to take care of their own business and figure it out by themselves.
Many who think this way about physical things also think this way about spiritual things. They don’t feel any great need for church. They believe they can work things out with God on their own. They say, “I can worship God out in nature just as well as I can at church.” Or along these lines you may have heard people say, “A car doesn’t have to be in the garage to be a car, any more than I have to be in church to be a Christian.”
The problem with this thinking is a misunderstanding of what church is for. Church is not just a place where we go to praise God and pray to Him. We could do that just as well at home or anywhere else. But we come to church for much more. We come to confess our sins and hear the word of Christ’s forgiveness pronounced by the servant He has placed in our midst. We come to have His Word applied to us in its condemnation and comfort, its Law and Gospel. And we come to eat and drink His own flesh and blood for our spiritual healing and nourishment.
A car doesn’t have to be parked in a garage to be a car, but it does need to have its tank regularly filled with gas, or it won’t go very far. A Christian needs to have his “tank” filled through the Word and Sacraments, or else he isn’t going to get to the place he thinks he is going.
Jesus wants us to be followers of Him. That’s what a disciple is: a follower. And how do we become and remain His followers? Jesus says this is through our one-time Baptism and a lifetime of hearing and learning His Word (Mat. 28:19-20). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus calls Himself “the Good Shepherd.” His sheep are those who listen to His Word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Joh. 10:27). The sheep follow the Shepherd.
Likening them to sheep is not the most flattering picture of believers in Christ. Sheep are not terribly impressive creatures. They are known neither for their strength nor for their smarts. There is a clear lesson in this. Jesus wants to impress on us that we are not capable of much on our own. We do not always choose the right path. We do not always strike out in the right direction. We sheep are prone to wander. We put ourselves in harmful situations because we fail to take note of our surroundings. We get so caught up in our business that we do not see the wolf lurking nearby.
This picture of vulnerable sheep is how the world views Christians. It views them as those who are weak, unimpressive, misled. What unbelievers do not realize is that they are even more vulnerable. Unbelievers are sheep who are not in a shepherd’s care. They are totally exposed, totally powerless to defend themselves when the wolf attacks.
The strength of Christians is in the Good Shepherd Himself. As long as they are in their Shepherd’s keeping, they are safe. He defends them from the wolf and any other attackers and keeps them close by the power of His Word.
But how can the sheep be sure of His care? How do they know they can count on Him? It is because “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” A hired man, “who does not own the sheep,” would not do this. But the Good Shepherd loves His sheep. He does not love them because they are especially good sheep, or because they have perfectly listened to His voice. He loves them because He is the Good Shepherd. He is the perfect Leader.
He led by humbly giving up His life for the life of the sheep. He led by serving those who were by no means worthy of His service. His greatness was in humbly following the will of His Father, who sent Him to be the atoning sacrifice for sinners. But His service to sinners did not end with His death. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (Joh. 10:17).
He took it up again on Easter Sunday. He came back to life and left the grave victorious over our sin and death. This is no uncertain shepherd. This is no weak leader. He is the Death-Destroyer! He is the Salvation-Winner! He is the Man to rally to! The Good Shepherd will not neglect your care. He will not leave you to fend for yourself. And He does not reject you even though you have fallen short in your responsibilities at church, at home, and in your community. The Good Shepherd loves you, His sheep. He forgives your sins and keeps you going on the right path.
So Do You Really Need a Shepherd? Your old Adam tells you that you can make it on your own, that all the strength you need is inside you. But you know better. You know there is no shame in being a follower. By God’s grace, you are His follower, His disciple.
At the same time, your humble trust in Him qualifies you to lead, to share His love with the people around you. He helps you to be the right kind of leader, one who looks out not for your own interests, but for the needs of others. Maybe you haven’t been the greatest husband or wife, father or mother, the greatest employee or neighbor. But the job is still yours. God wants you to have it, and He will strengthen you to do it.
He leads you forward by grace to show the love to others that He has shown to you. As you go about your work, there is no pressure on you to impress either God or the world. You don’t have to make a name for yourself. You already have a good name, the best name you could hope to have. The Good Shepherd has put His holy name on you and claimed you as one of His own, a dear sheep in His flock.
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 is portion of stained glass window from St. John the Baptist’s Anglican Church in New South Wales)