The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, who invites you to bring your concerns to the heavenly Father in prayer (Phi. 4:6) and to “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1Pe. 5:7), dear fellow redeemed:
What’s better: getting a raise and a promotion at work or getting your sins forgiven at church? Having expendable income to buy whatever you please, or having immeasurable grace to cover all your sins? Seeing a healthy return on your investments which promises a secure financial future, or seeing the Word and Sacraments continue to be administered at your church which promises the continued outpouring of God’s rich blessings?
We know the right answers to these questions, but the way we prioritize and live our life is not always consistent with them. We struggle with our devotion to the things of this world. We don’t want to give up the well-made plans we have made for this life. We imagine we can keep both the world and the Word close. But Jesus draws a line in the sand: “You cannot serve God and [mammon]—God and money/property/possessions.”
Who would ever “serve” these earthly things? The word means to be a slave to something. We are enslaved to mammon when the opportunities, treasures, and pleasures of the world mean more to us than the promises and gifts of God. We are enslaved to mammon when losing earthly things is our greatest concern and gaining earthly things causes our greatest joy. But mammon cannot forgive sins. It cannot deliver us from the devil. And it cannot save us from death.
Those who set their hearts on mammon—on these temporary things—are always anxious. They have put their trust in something that can slip through their fingers or be wrenched from their hands. But what else is there? Mammon is the only thing we can hope to control. That is the whole problem. We try to have control over things that are out of our control. We try to control what belongs to God.
God gives us these earthly things. They are meant for our use and enjoyment. They are not meant to take God’s place. Mammon does not love you; God loves you. Mammon does not take care of you; God does. Mammon makes no promises about your today or your tomorrow. God promises to take care of you and provide for all your needs since you are His own child.
Your status as God’s beloved child is the reason Jesus says, “do not be anxious about your life.” Now if you tell someone you are worried about something in the present or in the future, you don’t want to hear them say, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about. Just stop worrying about that.” Someone telling you to “stop your worrying” does not make your worry go away. But Jesus says more than that here. He tells us why we have no reason to be worried.
He says we don’t have to worry about what we will eat or drink, because our heavenly Father provides for the birds, and we are more valuable than they are. He says we don’t have to worry about clothing, because if the Lord arrays the flowers in beautiful clothing, He will most certainly clothe us. He says that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, so there is no need to be anxious about tomorrow.
But a lot of bad things could happen tomorrow. We could become seriously ill or injured. Our home and all our possessions could be destroyed. Enemies could attack us and cause terrible damage. That’s what happened twenty years ago this weekend. Terrorists took control of planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and would have flown another into the White House or the Capitol building. Many lives were lost. Our nation was drawn into war. Something like this could happen again today or tomorrow. Terrible things may be in store for us. How could we not be anxious?
A couple years before the attacks of 9/11, there were people who stockpiled goods and moved into bunkers because they thought the dawning of the year 2000 would usher in an apocalypse. We saw similar behaviors at the start of the 2020 pandemic when people stockpiled supplies and braced for the worst. We still feel anxiety about COVID-19 and its new variants. Our future and the future of our loved ones is uncertain. We don’t know what could happen tomorrow.
And yet Jesus says, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” It sounds too simplistic. It sounds like unfounded optimism. Things are bad today. Why should we be hopeful about tomorrow? Jesus does not tell us to be hopeful because nothing bad will happen to us in the future. He is not a prosperity preacher. He doesn’t tell us that we’re going to be really happy with all the success that is about to come our way. He doesn’t say that our worst days are behind us and our best days are ahead.
He says, “do not be anxious about tomorrow,” because He is the God of tomorrow. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but He does. It is better that we don’t know. If we knew what tomorrow would bring—both the good and the bad—our joys would be muted and our sorrows would be magnified. In His wisdom and mercy, God has chosen to keep us blind about the future. He does this so that we put all our hope, all our trust, and all our confidence in Him and not in our own preparations or efforts.
Perhaps you’ve played the game where someone blindfolds you, and you have to follow their verbal instructions to avoid bumping into things or going where you don’t want to be. I saw a variation of this game in which a narrow, winding pathway was edged by mousetraps ready to spring on every side and at every turn. There could be great perils and troubles in our future, but we are not called to worry about those things. We are called to listen to the voice of our merciful Lord and trust His promises.
But trust demands that we give up control or at least the sense of control. Trust means that we place our needs for today and tomorrow into the hands of another. It is hard for us to trust the Lord in this way. We remember the times that we trusted Him, and things did not seem to go well for us. We trusted Him to help us, but we failed. We trusted Him to fix our problems, but they only got worse. We have all asked this question before in our minds if not out loud, “Is God trustworthy—is He worthy of my trust?”
The answer to that question is found in the womb of a poor woman, on a Roman cross, and in an empty tomb. We don’t judge God’s trustworthiness by how well He has delivered what we want. We judge His trustworthiness by how well He has delivered what He promises and what we need. God made a promise after Adam and Eve sinned that He would send a Savior to crush Satan’s head and deliver mankind from sin and death. God kept that promise when thousands of years later, He sent His eternal Son to be born of the virgin Mary.
Jesus was born under the Law, so that He might keep it in every way where we have failed and sinned against God, and fulfill it perfectly for you and me. And then He went to the cross carrying all our sins, so that His innocent suffering and death would make atonement for all of our wrongs. Jesus knew that suffering was in His future even as He said, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” He was not blind to the hellish punishment He would have to endure, but He still went forward. He faced that tomorrow, the tomorrow of His death. His love for His Father kept Him from turning back. His love for you pushed Him toward all those horrors and pains.
But after His death, there was a tomorrow of rest. And then there was a tomorrow of victory over death. Jesus was in perfect control of each tomorrow, just as He is in control of all your tomorrows. No one took His life; He laid it down of His own accord. In John 10 He said, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (v. 18). And that’s what He did to win salvation for you and for me. He died for our sins and rose again to secure eternal victory over our death.
You do not have power over your sin and death, but He does. You do not have control over your today and tomorrow, but He does. And He is not anxious about tomorrow. You will not face anything tomorrow that He can’t handle. He has already defeated sin, death, and the devil for you! He is not going to forget about you. He is not going to leave you to suffer alone. He suffered for you, and He now joins you in your suffering to strengthen you. He will get you through whatever sickness, pain, or trouble that may come your way.
He is the solution for your anxiety and worry. When you enter His house and kneel or stand before Him at the altar rail, you can bring all your troubles, all your pains, all your uncertainties and hand them over to Him. And in return, He will give you peace—the peace of forgiveness, the peace of reconciliation with God, the peace of knowing that your future is secure in Him even when your life on this earth comes to an end.
You do not need to know what is going to happen later today or tomorrow. What you need to know is that your merciful and gracious Lord is The Keeper of Today and Tomorrow, and He Cares for You. As the psalmist says: “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psa. 121:5-8).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from stained glass at Jerico church)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who redeemed us not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, dear fellow redeemed:
One of the chapters of Greek mythology contains the story of King Midas. He was a very wealthy king, wealthier than any other. But he was not satisfied with his great riches. He wanted more. One day, a visitor promised to give him whatever he wished. So the king said, “I wish that everything I touch turns into gold!” The next morning, he woke up and touched his blankets. They turned to gold. He ran through the house, and everything he touched turned into pure gold. What good fortune!
All that running around made him hungry and thirsty, so he ordered food and drink to be brought to him. But as soon as he touched those things, they also turned to gold. King Midas began to realize that his gift was not everything he thought. Instead of excitement, he was now afraid and sad. When his daughter heard him weeping, she came to console him. But when they embraced, even she turned into gold. What a terrible mistake he had made!
The king was certain that gold would make him happy. Now he was willing to give all the gold in the world if it could bring back his daughter and allow him to eat and drink again. After all, what good is gold to someone who is alone? And what can gold do for someone who is about to die? King Midas learned a hard lesson about valuables. He had taken for granted what was really most valuable to him, and he found that the thing he most coveted was ultimately worthless.
What Do You Value Most? I think this list of valuables applies to many here and in this order: 1) Faith, 2) Family, 3) Friends, 4) Fortune, and 5) Fame. You know that faith in Jesus saves, and without Jesus there is no hope, so that has to be number one. No one knows you as well and supports you in this life like your family and then your friends. You may not aspire to a large fortune, but you want to be comfortable. And if you should be recognized by others for your good efforts, that would be welcome fame. Faith, family, friends, fortune, fame.
But if that list of valuables is accurate, shouldn’t this be reflected in our priorities? So if faith in Jesus is truly what we value most, won’t it be our primary focus to retain and strengthen that faith? And how is that done? Romans 10:17, “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Jesus says that His disciples abide in His Word (Jn. 8:31), and pay attention to everything He has spoken (Mt. 28:20). This is not just a one-day-a-week thing, but an every day priority. The Word of God must take precedence over anything else we are involved in. Work should not take the place of the Word, or sports, or any other leisure activity.
Neither should “family time” take the place of hearing and learning God’s Word. Better that family time is an opportunity to hear and learn the Word together. Nothing binds a family closer together than a common faith in Christ, and nothing strains a family more than the absence of Jesus and His Word. But as much as we say that family is a priority, often we neglect family almost as much as our faith. As parents, we can get so caught up in our work and hobbies that we really are not that involved in our children’s lives. Or maybe we can find time to spend with friends, but we can’t seem to find time to be at home.
And what about the friends who need us, but we can’t find time for them either. They wear us out with their constant troubles. They seem to take from us more than they give. We decide that we need to be around people who aren’t so needy. Then we wonder where they are when we have a crisis.
At the end of our list is fortune and fame. We want to be wealthy and well-liked, so much so that these valuables often occupy our time and energy above all else. But they are the least important. Jesus lumps these things under “unrighteous wealth.” The word used in Greek is “mammon”—“the mammon of unrighteousness.” He is not saying that it is a sin to have money and possessions. But it is a sin to value them above all else, and to think that they can offer us everything we need. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1Tim. 6:9-10).
The mammon of this world is just that, “of this world.” It cannot go with us into eternity. It must stay here. It would have no value in heaven or in hell anyway. But mammon is all that this world knows. As the saying goes, “Money makes the world go round.” This is the attitude we see in the manager in Jesus’ parable. First of all, he was mishandling his master’s possessions. We do not know exactly how. Was he failing to do what his master hired him for? Was he skimming a bit off the top? Was he simply lazy? It is not as though the man was incapable. When he was about to become unemployed, he sprang into action. He summoned those who had debts and reduced what they owed. He did this not because he felt any special concern for them. His concern was for himself and his own well-being. This is what motivated him. He did not want to have to dig or beg, so instead he weaseled his way into the good graces of others.
When his master found out, what did he have to say? He was probably happy to get rid of this worthless worker, but he also commended him—praised him—for his shrewdness. This dishonest manager had figured out how to avoid a future that was not to his liking. His actions were not ethical; they were not right. But that is not the point of Jesus’ parable. His point is that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” So this parable is not really about the wicked practices of “the sons of this world,” of unbelievers. It is about how “the sons of light,” how believers in Christ, should operate.
What we can learn from unbelievers is shrewdness. Think how far they are willing to go to gain and build up and protect their riches. They have an insatiable drive for the things they value most, even though they know that these things will not last. If they have such a focus and drive on getting what they will eventually lose, isn’t it true that we should have an even sharper focus on what will last forever? But we are reluctant to go there. Because we like what this world has to offer. Our flesh is weak, even though our spirit is willing (Mt. 26:41).
God knows it. This is why He sent His Son to take on flesh. Your flesh was far too weak to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:30,31). But Jesus ignored every worldly temptation. He was not distracted by temporal riches; His focus was on winning eternal riches for you. “[F]or the joy that was set before him—the joy of saving sinners—[he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Your debt of misplaced priorities and of greed was greater than you could ever pay. But Jesus says to you, “Take your bill and write ‘redeemed.’” “Take your bill and write ‘forgiven.’”
You owe nothing to God because of your sin. The debt is paid in Christ. But He does expect you to use the gifts He has given to you shrewdly and wisely. As far as earthly goods go, He has given some more and some less. He intends that you use what you have for food, clothing, and home. But you know that life is “more than food,” and the body is “more than clothing” (Mt. 6:25). Those things eventually pass away. But the Gospel is eternal. Salvation through Christ is eternal. There is nothing more valuable than these gifts from God.
If you could with your earthly means purchase someone’s salvation, you would do it, wouldn’t you? Of course you cannot do this. But you can set aside a portion of what God has given you to promote the preaching of the Word. You can assist the poor and needy and share with them the hope you have in Christ. You can support mission work in our country and around the world. You can purchase Bibles or other good devotional materials for use in your own home or to share with friends. In these ways, through such sacrifices of love, you will be doing what Jesus says in today’s text, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
God has given you the responsibility of managing countless blessings for your own good and for the good of others. He knows well where you have been wasteful and squandered His wealth, and where you have been selfish and greedy. But that does not stop Him from continuing to give and give more. He loves you. The job is still yours. Your management will not be taken away from you. Worldly riches can only satisfy for awhile as King Midas learned, but the treasures of God endure into eternity.
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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