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.
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(picture from “The Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 8:23-27
In Christ Jesus, our Brother, the eternal God, dear fellow redeemed:
Today’s sermon text is about faith. The simple definition of “faith” is “trust.” But it is not trust in what we can see and feel and experience. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It was by faith that the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament were commended by God. Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and many more believed in what they could not see. They believed God’s promise of salvation and were saved through this faith. Genesis 15 says about Abraham, that “he believed the LORD, and [the LORD] counted it to him as righteousness” (v. 6).
This is the opposite of what we so often hear people say, “I will believe it when I see it.” What they really mean is, “My rational mind will accept it when I see it.” If they can see it, faith is no longer required. We fall into this sort of thinking too. For instance, we tend to think that God is pleased with us when life is going well. But when we have troubles, we wonder if He is punishing us or is too busy for us or has even abandoned us. We will happily believe in His power and mercy when a serious disease is cured, or when we hear about a Christian’s life changing for the better. But what about when sickness leads to death, or when someone loses everything she has? Do we believe in the Lord then too?
This is like the disciples as they stepped with Jesus into the boat on the Sea of Galilee. They had just watched Jesus perform miracle after miracle, casting out demons and healing the sick (Mt. 8:14-17). If anyone had asked them at that time whether there was anything Jesus could not do, the disciples would have almost certainly said, “No. He can do anything!” They felt no anxiety or concern as they pushed off from the shore. They were with the great Teacher Jesus. Who could be more fortunate?
But then the wind began to pick up. The waves rolled one on top of the other, higher and higher. The small boat tipped and tilted this way and that. Though they were experienced fishermen, the sailor-skill of the disciples was no match for the “seismos,” as it was called in Greek. It was a terrible shaking of the sea, a seismic tempest, as though a great earthquake was at work beneath the waters. The men bailed water as quickly as they could, but still the boat was filling up. If something about the situation did not improve, the boat would certainly go under.
Somehow, while the storm raged and the disciples grew more and more terrified, Jesus slept. The evangelist Mark tells us that “he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (4:38). How is this possible? Well if a person is tired enough, he can sleep just about anywhere. Jesus must have been exhausted from His full schedule of teaching and healing. And let us not forget that His suffering increased day by day as He came closer to His crucifixion. The weight of what was coming pressed down on Him. He must suffer the wrath of God and eternal damnation in the place of all sinners. This was a weight that none of us could carry for a moment. As true God, He could bear it. But as true Man, He felt human weakness and fatigue. The burden was heavy. He needed rest.
So the boat seemed sure to sink, and Jesus slept. You may not have had an experience like this on the open seas, but I’m sure you can relate to the situation in your own way. You may have gotten bad news about your health, or felt pain getting worse and worse and wondered, “Why doesn’t God heal me?” You may have watched someone you love dying, and Jesus never seemed so far away. You may have had classmates pick on you, friends turn on you, people lie to you, and felt very alone. You may have wanted God to save your marriage or keep your family from fighting so much, but nothing seemed to improve. A great storm raged inside you or around you, and as far as you could tell, Jesus was sleeping – unaware or uncaring.
But it is not your faith that tells you this. Faith is like a powerful telescope that zooms in on Jesus, no matter how far away He seems to be. The part of you that doubts Jesus and questions His love and second-guesses His Word is not the new man of faith but the old Adam of sin. It is the part of you that demands proof from God where He has not promised to give it. If you require Jesus to fix or heal or prosper as a condition for continuing to believe in Him, then we are no longer talking about faith. Preaching on this same text Martin Luther said, “For it is the great characteristic and power of faith to see what is not visible, and not to see what is visible, yea, that which at the time drives and oppresses us” (Church Postil, p. 94).
Luther points out that faith not only focuses on what is unseen; it also ignores what can be seen. In this way, faith is the opposite of our reason and senses. This is why Luther said in his Small Catechism that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe” (Explanation to Third Article). But it is very difficult—and even impossible for us sinners—to ignore the troubles and threats that we see and experience. What else could Jesus’ disciples do than to frantically wake Him up and cry, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”? It seems that this should have pleased Jesus. They came to the right place for help. Their plea was consistent with the LORD’s invitation in Psalm 50: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (v. 15).
To call upon the LORD in our trouble certainly does please Him, and He does help us. But it is one thing to approach Him with a quiet confidence in His care and goodness. It is another thing to pray to Him as a last resort, frantically, with hearts full of doubt, wondering why He did not anticipate our needs before things got so bad. This must be the state the disciples were in, which prompted Jesus’ rebuke, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” When we are full of worries, when we are stressed, when we cannot imagine any good outcome to our predicaments, it is appropriate for us to hear a word of law. By the law the Lord says, “Have I not made My promises clear? Is your faith in Me so weak?” And it often is weak like that. We often do think that what we can perceive is more powerful, either to do evil or good, than God Himself.
But the last portion of today’s text should put that wrong thinking to rest. Jesus got up from where He was lying and simply told the winds and the sea to “be still” (Mk. 4:39). And immediately the sea was calm. “What sort of man is this?” the disciples wondered. The answer is that Jesus was not Man only, but fully God, whom the winds and sea and all creation obey. It seemed unbelievable, but it was true. God had become Man, and this God-Man was with the disciples in the boat. They realized now that they had nothing to fear. Even those massive waves were no match for the Word of Jesus.
The same is true for your trials—they will never be greater than Jesus’ Word. His Word increases your faith which is constantly under attack by the devil and his forces. When your heart and mind are raging with memories of past sins and the struggle of current ones, He speaks His calming Word, “be still.” He brings to you forgiveness for your guilt, refocusing you once again on His cross and empty tomb. There is where He made atonement for your sins with His blood, and where He left your sins buried.
Through His Word He also assures you of His abiding presence. He does not simply speak His Word from afar. He is in the boat with you. And though you may wonder if He is sleeping or unaware of your trouble, He promises that He is not. He promises that He will bring you His blessings personally as you hear His Word and receive His Sacraments. The tempest of sin that threatens to overwhelm you, is silenced in the calm waters of Holy Baptism. And your fear-filled heart is comforted and filled with hope as you receive Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion.
You and I cannot see or feel Jesus’ presence in the means of grace. This is the place for faith, which trusts what God says. By faith, we cling to what is invisible, yet is very present, real, and powerful. The Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient—passing, temporary—, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Cor. 4:16-18).
No matter what difficulties you are facing or may face in the future, The True God Abides with You. And He knows how to save you, strengthen you, and bless you.
What harm can sin and death now do?
The true God now abides with you.
Let hell and Satan rage and chafe,
Christ is your Brother—ye are safe. (ELH 154, v. 4)
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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