The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:1-9
In Christ Jesus, whose saving light shines in the world through our clear confession of the Gospel and our humble service, dear fellow redeemed:
If we did not live at a time with access to electricity, our lives would be very different. All the things we rely on appliances for would need to be done by hand. There would be no digital screens to look at for work and entertainment. There would be no fixtures in place to flood each room with light. We could make use of oil lamps and candles. But for the most part our daily activities would be determined by the light of the sun and the occasional light of the moon.
In a scenario like this, it would be foolish for us to sleep until noon and stay up past midnight. By not using the daylight, we would squander our best working hours. It’s much easier to work when everything is lit up and in view than trying to get things done in the darkness.
In today’s text, we might say that the manager of the rich man’s goods stumbled because he was doing his work in the darkness. We know the manager was wasting his master’s possessions, but we do not know how. It could have been that he was lazy. Maybe he was too passive and not as involved in the work as he should have been. Possibly he was even embezzling some of his master’s riches.
Of the little we know about him, we can say that the manager was most concerned about himself. When he was being relieved of his duties, he showed no remorse for his mismanagement. Instead he worried about keeping up his standard of living going forward. “What shall I do?” he said. “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” That’s when he hatched the plan to mismanage his master’s goods still further in a way that would benefit him personally.
He did not act nobly and honestly. He acted selfishly. It is the kind of behavior we might expect from an unbeliever with a dull conscience. You maybe know someone like this, someone who does not think twice about using others to get what he wants. He doesn’t care about fairness or kindness or whether his actions cause harm as long as he succeeds. These are works done in darkness by someone who “does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1Jo. 2:11).
Believers in Christ, God’s own children, are called to act differently. They are not to be concerned only about their own needs, but about the needs of their neighbors. And their goal is not to try to outdo or even just keep up with others in their materialism. Believers know that having the biggest house on the block, the nicest possessions, and the greatest wealth is not important. Those riches are fleeting and one day will belong to someone else or will be buried in a landfill.
What we are called to do in each of our vocations is to work honestly and diligently and be thankful for whatever God gives us. This is how “the sons of light” should conduct themselves. Jesus contrasts “the sons of light” with “the sons of this world.” The “sons of light” are those who walk in the light of Jesus. They are not afraid or consumed with their own self-preservation like someone lost in deep darkness. They clearly see what is around them, both the good and bad. They see neighbors in need. They see the many blessings the Lord gives them along the way. They clearly see the path leading to the kingdom of everlasting light.
In these ways “the sons of light” have every advantage over “the sons of this world.” The sons of this world do not know where they are going. They have no clear purpose. They have no clear goal. When they reach their earthly end, they are without hope. They ultimately find that all their dealing in the darkness resulted in no lasting good.
This shows how crucial it is for “the sons of light” to shine in the world’s darkness. Jesus said, “[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16). We let our lights shine by supporting those around us and helping them keep what is theirs. We let our lights shine by being generous with what we have and sharing with those in need.
But the primary way we shine the light of Jesus in this dark world is by sharing the Gospel individually and by supporting the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments both locally and around the world. We have the means to break sinners free from the chains of sin! We have the answer for the troubled conscience and despairing heart! We have Jesus, who shed His blood to redeem all people and rose in victory over death and hell!
We have the greatest Treasure that mankind has ever known or ever could know! It is ours! But what have we done with this Treasure? Have we buried it so no one knows we have it? Have we acted like it was everything to us one day but cast it aside the next? Or have we given our time, our talents, and our treasures to promote the work of the Gospel?
Look at what the world does when it finds a cause worthy of its attention. Look at how much money and energy people commit to their health, to their hobbies, and to their entertainment. The “sons of this world” are relentless in their pursuit of their interests, their causes, and their pleasures. We should be just as relentless in our confession of the truth and in spreading the Gospel to all corners of the earth. This is the point Jesus wants us to take from today’s text.
But first of all He says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” This is an indictment. Jesus is telling us that unbelievers are better at doing evil than we are at doing good. They are more shrewd about things that serve themselves than we are at things that serve our Lord and our neighbor. This is because sin is in us too. We know what is good, but we struggle to carry it out.
And yet, despite our mismanagement of the great riches God has given us, He has not removed us from our position. We are still “sons of light” by faith in Jesus. We are still His kinsmen. He claims us as His own. By His blood He has blotted out all of our wrongdoing. And by His righteous life He has credited to us all the good works we lacked.
He forgives us for the times we have been lazy about hearing and learning His Word, for the times we failed to speak up for the truth, for the times we sold out entirely and let sin overcome us. His perfect stewardship of God’s holy gifts counts for all who are guilty of mismanagement. All sinners who trust in Him alone for their salvation will never have to experience the terror of standing before the righteous God and hearing Him give the eternal verdict, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”
Because of what Jesus has done to save us, we have no work to do to get ourselves to heaven. But we do have work to do on earth. Jesus explains, “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.” Now take note that Jesus does not say, “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous means,” or by doing what unbelievers do, as though we should try to fit in with the world. He says to make friends by “unrighteous wealth.”
“Unrighteous wealth” is another term for earthly riches. We are to be shrewd and wise with our earthly means, so that the things of God—the good and holy and pure things—are promoted. This does not mean every penny needs to go in the offering plate or to a charitable fund. It does not mean we must live in a leaking shelter and get by on one change of clothes and simple bread and water for every meal.
But we can do more with what God has given us. We can be better managers. We can cut back on some of the things that are less important and focus on what is more important. You could purchase Bibles or devotion books for family members or friends. You could contribute toward our college or seminary or other educational institutions in our fellowship. You could adopt a home or foreign mission that our synod oversees. You could support efforts to assist the poor and hurting with both their physical and their spiritual needs.
Jesus promises that these efforts will bear fruit. His Word does not return to Him void. And when your efforts are exhausted and your earthly end has come, Jesus says that those who heard the saving Word and believed it will “receive you into the eternal dwellings.” They will welcome you into heaven, so that together you can praise God for His abundant grace and mercy.
In another place Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Joh. 9:4). As long as we are here, we have the privilege and responsibility of managing all the spiritual and earthly riches God gives us. Now is not the time for getting lazy or failing to utilize the light. We Work While It Is Day.
We work in the bright light of Jesus, who puts no heavy burden on our shoulders. He has done the heavy lifting for us and for all sinners by sacrificing Himself in our place. We work knowing that He forgives our failures, and that He will accomplish great things even through our humble efforts. God grant that we may be continuously diligent and joyful in this work. Amen.
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.
+ + +
(“Parable of the Unjust Steward” etching by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712)
The Epiphany of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 2:1-12
In Christ Jesus, our Priceless Treasure, who by His suffering and death has unlocked for sinners all the riches of heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
Most Christian children can name the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gifts are memorable because they are unique. We know what gold is, but what are frankincense and myrrh? They are gummy substances that ooze from trees native to the Arabian Peninsula. They give off a sweet aroma when burnt, much like the incense we might burn in our homes. Myrrh was also used to sweeten wine (Mar. 15:23) and was utilized for burials, like it was when Joseph and Nicodemus laid Jesus to rest (Joh. 19:39-40).
We understand the gift of gold for the “King of the Jews,” but we are not sure why frankincense and myrrh were offered. Perhaps these were rare in the area where the wise men lived. They did in a way foreshadow the work Jesus came to do. Like a priest offering up prayers at the altar of incense, so Jesus would intercede for sinners and offer Himself as a sacrifice to God. And the customary use of myrrh for burial foreshadowed Jesus’ death to save mankind.
These were generous gifts, and they probably caught Mary by surprise as much as these strange visitors did. What a sight to see those foreigners bow down to her little Child and present their treasures! There in a humble home in Bethlehem, they worshiped Him and called Him their King. Their actions revealed the foremost concern of their hearts. Nothing was more important to them than finding this Jewish King.
Their visit also revealed the priorities of King Herod and the people of Jerusalem. Herod is known to history as “Herod the Great.” He was appointed king in Judea by the Roman senate and remained on the throne until his death about 35 years later. He was adept at pacifying his superiors in Rome while also suppressing any threat to his rule in Judea. He is known as “great” because of his ambitious building projects, most notably rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.
But there were many other things that made him not so great. He married multiple times, discarding one wife for another if he thought he could gain politically. He also had various family members killed—including three of his own sons—when he suspected them of plotting against him. This explains Herod’s reaction when the wise men came looking for the “King of the Jews.” Matthew writes that Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod would tolerate no potential challenge to his throne. He was the king of the Jews, not some little baby!
Jerusalem was troubled because the full force of Herod’s fury was directed toward solving this problem. He quickly brought together all the chief priests and scribes and wanted to know “where the Christ was to be born.” Notice that Herod referred to the Child by His title of “Christ” or “Messiah.” He was aware of the Old Testament prophesies about this Baby.
So were the religious leaders. They correctly stated that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. But their interest in the matter went no further. After delivering the information to Herod, they went back to their business. None of them could be bothered to investigate further, despite the sudden appearance of these strange men from the east.
And Herod could think of nothing more than protecting his earthy power. He put on a show of humility, telling the wise men that he wanted to worship the Christ-Child too. In reality he wanted to learn where the Baby was, so he could kill Him. We see here how the leaders of the church and state were occupied with the wrong things, just as so many are today. The church leaders knew what the Scriptures said, but they did not believe it. Or they feared what might happen to them if they followed it. And King Herod heard the truth, but all he cared about was himself.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about how temporary all these worldly pursuits are: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:19-21).
In this passage, Jesus does not give the advice the world does. He does not tell you to follow your heart or trust your feelings to lead you to good things. He says the opposite. He says that if you want to know where your heart is, look at what you treasure the most. We know what we should treasure the most. We know we should treasure Jesus and His Word the most. But if that were the case, God’s Law and Gospel would occupy a large part of our thoughts. We would constantly desire to study it and live according to it.
Instead we let other things take the rightful place of God’s Word. Our primary concern may be money and securing a comfortable future. It may be respect and prestige in our work and doing whatever it takes to advance. It may be our appearance and getting others to notice us. It may be our children’s future success by giving them the best opportunities now. There is nothing wrong with money and respect and caring for our bodies and giving opportunities to our children. But these things must not be what we treasure the most.
The devil and our own flesh want us to ignore and despise our greatest treasure. They want our Bibles and devotion books to collect dust on the table or shelf. They want us to believe that there is no room in our busy schedules for regular church attendance. And when we are in church, they want us to be distracted by thinking about our plans for the rest of the day. In other words, the devil and our sinful flesh want us to starve while a feast is on the table in front of us. They want us to throw away the treasure box and the key that opens it.
But we could not hope for greater treasure than what we have in the divine service. We have God’s Word and Sacraments, through which we receive His heavenly riches. The world and our sinful flesh cannot understand this, just as they have no appreciation for the events of Epiphany. If any unbeliever looked at a picture of the wise men visiting the Child Jesus, they would say that the greatest treasure in the room was the gold. And they would think it strange to see grown men bow down before a Baby. What is so special about a Baby?
In the same way, if an unbeliever visited our church, they might think that the greatest treasure is the building with its ornate altar and other decorative features. Or they might see potential in the offerings given by the members. But they would likely be unimpressed by our liturgy, hymns, and sermon, and the strange practice of going to the Communion rail and eating bread from the pastor’s hand.
But our greatest treasure is located in those humble means. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18). The Word of the Gospel is a powerful Word. It is a Word that gives what it declares. To the weak it gives strength. To the grieving it gives comfort. To the dying it gives life. The Word gives all these things because Jesus comes through the Word, and Jesus is our strength, comfort, and life.
Paul expressed in another place his prayer for the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea, “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). Paul says that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”—all of these are found in Christ. In Him, we have forgiveness for all our sins and eternal life.
The way you lay up these treasures for yourself is to gladly hear and learn the Gospel and to hunger and thirst for the saving body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. It may be difficult for you to grasp why God is so good to you and so willing to give you His gifts. How could He be that eager to come to one who is often distracted by the things of the world? How could He make you such a priority, when He and His Word are not always at the top of your list?
God’s love for you and me is impossible to comprehend. His love is the reason that God became Man and was born in Bethlehem. His love is the reason the Christ Child was revealed to the wise men through a special star in the sky. His love is the reason Jesus offered His life for yours to save you from your sin and death. In one of his hymns, Paul Gerhardt wrote about the great riches we have through the shedding of Jesus’ blood:
Enlarge, O thou, my heart, thy shrine,
To hold this treasure given;
Far greater treasure here is thine
Than earth and sea and heaven.
Away, gold of Arabia,
Away, myrrh, aloes, cassia!
I’ve found a better portion,
My greater treasure, Jesus Christ,
Is this which from Thy wounds most blest
Flowed forth for my salvation. (ELH #331, v. 7)
Jesus—with His perfect righteousness and cleansing blood—Is Our Greatest Treasure. The wise men believed this too. They knew their gifts were not equal to their King. No amount of treasure in the world could be a sufficient offering for the One who made all things. But Jesus does not yearn for these things. What He desires most from us is a humble heart of repentance and trust in His everlasting promises. As Gerhardt wrote in another hymn:
The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure. (ELH #161, v. 6)
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.
+ + +
(late 1800s mural, “Adoration of the Magi,” is displayed in the basilica in Conception, Missouri)