Fishers, of Men

Text: Luke 5:1-11

“If I just had this, then I could do that.” You’ve probably said this or something like it in your life. I know I have. I always know that if I just had one more guitar, then I would be happy. If I just had one more guitar, I could be happy and my mind could focus on other things. I don’t expect that’s what you all think about during the day. Maybe it’s the project you’re working on at home. If you just got that done, you could work on something else. Sometimes, we think along these lines: If I could just get this done, then I could focus on church. If I could just get this need taken care of, then I could focus my time on spreading the Good News.

That’s not to say that thinking like this is inherently bad. It’s just that we often let the cares of this world prevent us from hearing God’s Word, studying it, and sharing it with those around us. We know that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring people to faith. It’s through Scripture that the Spirit puts to death the Old Adam and creates faith in hearts of stone, causing them to become hearts of flesh. Yet, we say, if we just had x taken care of, we could really get about the business of the Gospel. What did St. Paul say? “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”[1] And yet, it’s rarely strictly matters of food and clothing that hold us captive.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord sets us straight. After He taught the crowds, He told Simon to set out for a catch. At Jesus’ Word, they let down the nets, and He provided them with a miraculous catch – such that two boats were needed to hold all the fish. Through this, Jesus demonstrated His ability to care for our bodily needs. After demonstrating His care for the physical needs of His people, Jesus called the first disciples to care for souls by the preaching of the Word. So also, the Lord provides for our physical needs, and likewise calls His Church to be fishers of men.

I.

The text from St. Luke’s Gospel begins,

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.[2]

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins in chapter 4, where He started going from synagogue to synagogue, city to city, in both Galilee and Judea, preaching about the kingdom of God. He preached that salvation had indeed come to the world in Him. As proof, He healed many who were sick and cast out many demons.

As Word about Him spread, the crowds grew. They desired not only healing of their bodies, but the salvation of their souls. They began flocking to Jesus and pressing in on Him. At this time, when people spoke to each other they stood very nearly nose-to-nose. So, you can imagine what it would be like having a crowd of people all trying to be nose-to-nose with you. It would be nearly impossible to teach the whole group. Our Lord got into Simon’s boat, set out from the shore a bit, and taught from there.

The Holy Spirit relates to us through St. Luke what happens next.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”[3]

When Jesus finished speaking, He directed Peter to go out for a catch. Peter responded that they had fished all night and caught nothing. This must’ve been highly unusual. Yet, at Jesus’ Word, they would let down their nets. Then they came up with a miraculous catch, such that both the boats began sinking from the weight. Jesus demonstrated through this miracle that He, most certainly, can provide for the needs of our bodies. Do notice how He did it. Simon and Andrew, James and John, were fishermen. They fished for a living. Our Lord didn’t just magically manifest fish in the boats. He told them to go fishing, and then provided the miraculous catch.

He does the same for us. Through our positions in life, our vocations, the Lord provides for our needs, and the needs of those around us. Through farmers the Lord provides food and countless other things for families in our community and around the world. Through teachers, He trains up skilled workers for society. Through nurses He provides healing and care. Notice also, how things happened in the text. They had fished all night and caught nothing. It was only at the Lord’s Word and with His blessing that fish were caught. Same for us. Sometimes we think that it is our hard work that brings in the goods, but it is the Lord’s good will that causes our work to prosper. It does sometimes happen, as in our text, that the Lord doesn’t provide growth to teach us that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

II.

“If I just had this, I could do that.” We’ve all used that at some point in our lives. We’ve all used it to excuse ourselves also in matters of faith. If I could just get this taken care of, then I could be in church. If I just felt more secure, then I would share the Good News. My friends in Christ, our Lord has demonstrated in this miracle – and in our lives – that He can and does provide for all that we need. As I look around, we all have clothes on. We all are at least relatively well-fed. These things and more, our Lord provides out of His gracious and good will.

When Simon Peter saw what happened, he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”[4] Amazement at these events had overcome him, so also his brother Andrew and their partners, James and John. But, Jesus answered him, “Do not be afraid; From now on you will be catching men.”[5] Peter realized what the catch meant. He had previously heard Jesus’ preaching, but now he saw clearly. Jesus is God. He knew what the catch meant, and was convicted by his own sinfulness. Peter wanted to run from Jesus. Jesus forgive Peter and called him to be a catcher of men. That is, He equipped Peter with the net of the Gospel, to catch men and bring them out alive from the sea of sin and death. Peter, and those who were with him, left everything and followed Jesus.

“If I just had this, I could do that.” That’s what we say. But, now we realize that our Lord can and does provide for what we need. There is nothing we need that we truly lack. When we put these things above the call that Christ has given His Church, we deserve for our Lord to depart from us. Instead, like Peter, He forgives us. Like Peter, He gives us what we need and then sends us out with what the world needs – the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ has made payment for our sins, and gives eternal life as a gift to all those who believe this.

There’s an important word toward the end of our text. It was translated in our reading as, “catching men.” A better translation would be, “catching men alive.” This word in Greek isn’t just for catching, but catching something alive. Such is what happens when the Word of God is preached, and the Holy Spirit creates faith in those who hear it. They are brought up out of the sea of sin and death and seated in the ark of the Church. This work the whole Church is called to, yet we let things of this world distract us. Let us learn from this text that our dear Lord can and does provide for all that we truly need. With that in place, He call us also to be fishers of men – that we also speak the Good News of salvation to those around us, that they also be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.


[1] 1 Tim. 6:8, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 5:1-3.

[3] Lk. 5:4-7.

[4] Lk. 5:8.

[5] Lk. 5:10.

“Love Bears All Things,” Luke 18:31-43

Text: Luke 18:31-43

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind…[it] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Since ancient times this epistle reading has been paired with our Gospel reading from Luke 18. Already from St. Augustine, who died in 430, we have sermons combining these texts, demonstrating the depth of Christ’s love for us. In the Gospel, Christ demonstrates a love beyond comprehension, that defies understanding – a love that endures all things.

These past weeks leading up to our Lord’s Lent, we’ve been looking at grace and salvation from a few different angles. First, we had the parable of the Vineyard, where all the workers received the same wage. Second, last week we heard the parable of the Sower. In it Christ sows His Word like a seed. Where it takes root, it bears fruit a hundredfold – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week, as Jesus nears the final week of His earthly life, He again teaches what will soon happen to Him. He will be betrayed, mocked, humiliated, spit upon, flogged, and killed – all to accomplish what was written in the prophets concerning our salvation. But, as we read, the Disciples didn’t understand. This is our focus this week.

The grace of our Lord is given freely to all who believe in Him. It comes through the preaching of the Word. And, this week, we confess that – apart from the Holy Spirit – our minds cannot understand or believe it. Despite our sinful flesh, Jesus willingly went to endure suffering, so that all that was written concerning our salvation might be accomplished.

I.   

Our text this week comes from Luke 18. Here we find Jesus nearing His final ascent to Jerusalem. It’s been a long journey. He began this journey in Luke 9, where it says, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This whole time He’s been preaching and teaching and healing and raising the dead, but with this end in sight – He is going to Jerusalem to die and rise. This is what Scripture has always been about, and it’s where the forgiveness of sins comes from. And, this is exactly what Jesus preaches in the text.

St. Luke writes, “Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’” If you look at this text in the Bible, you’ll find that this is now the third time that Jesus has predicted His death. Each time He’s mentioned that He’s going to die, and before that be betrayed. This time, though, He opens it up and teaches just what is going to happen to Him before He dies. Again, He’ll be handed over. But, also, He’ll be mocked and treated shamefully. He’ll be spit upon. He’ll be flogged. And then, then they’ll kill Him.

I was reading in a book not too long ago about the concept of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a barbaric practice – quite painful – but also, humiliating. It was meant to be a humiliating death. That’s why people were crucified in public places with signs above their heads. It’s also why it was against the law to crucify Roman citizens. But, what I learned is this: In every picture I’ve ever seen of Jesus on the cross, He had has some sort of cloth on Him. You know, covering His private parts. However, considering that crucifixion was purposefully humiliating, and that Scripture tells us that they gambled for His clothing, it’s most likely that Jesus was crucified totally naked.

I bring this up because Jesus knew this full-well. He knew entirely what would happen to Him, indeed, what must happen to Him. He knew how shamefully He would be treated, and He did it anyway. All so that Scripture would be fulfilled and we be saved. Jesus died exposed so that our sins might be covered. Jesus didn’t just allow this to happen to Him, but He willingly did it for us. Luther wrote on this passage, “Whoever looks at His suffering without seeing His will and heart in them must be terrified at it rather than rejoice in it. But if we see His heart and will in [His suffering], this produces true comfort, confidence, and joy in Christ.” “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things…endures all things.”

II.   

Here we have our Lord pouring out His heart, telling how much He loves us and what He is willing to endure, so that we might be reconciled to God. But, how is it received by those nearest to Him? “But they,” the twelve, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus demonstrated the depth of His great love for us, the vastness of His mercy and grace, while the disciples showed the Holy Spirit to be right when He caused St. Paul to write, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law.”

It still had not set in for the disciples that Jesus’ suffering is absolutely necessary for our salvation. Without it we cannot be saved, and apart from faith in Christ’s suffering there is no salvation. Even though, in this same chapter, Jesus welcomed the little children, called the rich young ruler to follow Him, and healed the blind beggar, they still didn’t quite get it. Neither do we. 

By that, I mean that we are all by nature Pharisees. We all by nature try to center our salvation on something inside of us, something we do. Whether it’s feeling that we are saved because we go to church, or because we consider ourselves good people, or because we do some good things – our sinful nature doesn’t understand that relying on those things is like going up to the cross and pulling Jesus down. Our sinful nature rather not look at the cross.

But look to the cross, we must. We must look to our dear Jesus, naked and dying on the cross, because that is where salvation comes from. All of Scripture leads us there. It is there that we see how much, how deeply, how seriously God loves us. Though it is hard, no, impossible, for our sinful flesh to understand, Jesus’ suffering is the prime demonstration of His love for us. By His suffering He accomplished what was written in the prophets and secured our salvation.

III.  

St. Paul did write that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Then he wrote, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Thanks be to God for the great gifts that He bestowed on us in our Baptism. We were all by nature Pharisees and children of wrath. We were unable to see in our Lord’s sufferings the fulfillment of Scripture and our salvation. We were mired in sin. But now, all of that has been washed away. Instead of leaving Adam and Eve naked, God clothed them in flesh. Instead of exposing our secret and shameful sins, Jesus has covered them up by His suffering in our place. By our Baptism, the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe and eyes to see in our Lord’s blessed wounds the fulfillment of the Scripture and the source of our salvation.

As our Lord continued His journey toward Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, He was met on the road by a blind beggar. He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stopped, spoke, and the man’s sight was restored. Immediately, he began praising God. Thanks be to God for the great love with which He has loved us. Jesus Christ suffered humiliation on the cross so that Scripture might be fulfilled and we be saved. In Baptism He opened our eyes to see and believe the same. 

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Text: Luke 18:9-14

Listen to the sermon here

Two men enter, and two men leave. Two men go up to the temple to pray, and both go down again. Two men go in, but only one returns justified. One man was a Pharisee and the other, a tax collector. Yet, the one who went down justified was not the one people would’ve expected. Our text today from St. Luke’s Gospel often gets combined with another occasion where Jesus talks about Pharisees and prayer. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Jesus uses the word “hypocrites” there, but it’s clear that He’s talking about the Pharisees, who habitually put on shows of piety for others to see.

Passages about the Pharisees often get combined, and most of the time when they come up, the sermon becomes an opportunity to encourage humility and tolerance. For, every knows how judgmental those evil Pharisees were; and, of course, we are better than they are. Or, if you like – take out Pharisee and put in whatever other people you want. Although we could preach a sermon on humility from this text, I’m not convinced that’s the main point. St. Luke gives us why Jesus preached this parable in verse 9, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”

This parable is a little more sophisticated than it appears at first. It actually cuts right to the core of the Christian faith and the thing that separates the true faith from all the other falsehoods out there. The core of the Christian faith and what separates us from all other religions is how we are justified, how we are made righteous – how we are saved. Two men go into the temple to pray, one leaves justified. One man offers an eloquent prayer, which is to be commended, but his prayer revealed where his confidence ultimately lied: in himself. So, he left without his sins forgiven. The other, as we will see, returned to his home forgiven. Jesus demonstrates in our text that the ones who are truly justified – who are made righteous and whose sins are forgiven – are those who trust not in themselves, but only in God’s abundant mercy.

I.

Our text begins, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’” In Luke 18, things are starting the ratchet up a little bit. If your remember last week, our text was Luke 19, which was just after Triumphal Entry. Jesus is teaching in this chapter in view of His upcoming passion. The things that He talks about have His suffering and death as their central point. Soon after our text comes Jesus’ third prediction of His death, which will accomplish all that was written in the prophets; He will win salvation for the world by His death and resurrection. His suffering is what makes peace between God and the world and is the reason for our justification.

In order to teach this, Jesus uses a parable. He sets up a contrast that would be startlingly real to the audience. In one corner, a Pharisee, and in the other, a tax collector. It’s important to remember that, contrary to how we perceive Pharisees now, they weren’t the bad guys. Well, they were for their evil doctrine; but think of the Pharisees as the people in church that everyone likes. They are the most religious, most giving, most well-liked people in the congregation. They were whom everyone looked up to. The tax collector, on the other hand, was the bad guy. Yeah, they were Jews. But they were greedy swindlers, who worked for the Roman occupiers. They paid a great sum of money be tax collectors, only so they could extort more money out of their fellow man. And yeah, they probably went to church, but they maybe weren’t the most well-liked.

II.

Both men go up to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” The Pharisee goes up to the temple for the time of corporate worship with all the other people, but he situates himself so that he is set apart from the others. To some extent, this was the Pharisees’ M.O.; to them you were either pure or not. Salvation for them was measured by how pure you were. Included among those who were not pure, were some who were fellow churchgoers. So, he separated himself from the crowd, because if he got too close, then he would also be impure, and then also so he could be seen by the others.

He offered this prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers…” Now, in some ways, the prayer itself is not so bad. It is good to thank God that He has preserved us from falling into great shame and vice. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, we would be much worse off. It’s okay to recognize that. But that’s not what the Pharisee did. Remember why Jesus is telling this parable. The Pharisee was saying that he was better than all other men. All the others are unrighteous robbers and adulterers, but not him. He concluded that, because he does not do any of those things, he must be righteous. Then he justified himself by saying, in addition, he also fasted not once but twice a week and tithed not just what he earned, but also what he bought.

Jesus spoke this parable against those who were confident that they were righteous in and of themselves. They were the ones who counted their works, and based their hope of salvation on them. The Pharisee wasn’t really thanking God, but he was advertising and celebrating himself. He didn’t need to ask God for forgiveness, because he knew how good he was. His posture and prayer revealed what was inside his heart: neither repentance over sin nor faith in Christ, only his own goodness. Therefore, Jesus said, the Pharisee was not the one who went down from the temple justified. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the others, the unrighteous. But now he is the “other,” the one whose sins were not forgiven. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

III.  

The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” As the Pharisee stood in front of the congregation congratulating himself, the tax collector stood at a distance. All men are liars, cheaters, adulterers, and thieves – in other words, poor miserable sinners – a fact the tax collector freely acknowledged. Convicted by God’s Word and ashamed of his sin, the man would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he beat his chest. This act of contrition was common in times of great sorrow, but even then usually only among women. For a man to do it…

He offered up a simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Hidden in those words is a profound theological statement that we miss in English.The word for mercy in Greek is ἔλεος , which is where we get Kyrie Eleison from. That isn’t the word the tax collector uses. He uses the word ἱλάσθητί, which relates to another word, ἱλαστήριον. The ἱλαστήριον is the part on the ark of the covenant that would be covered by blood of a sacrifice. Once a year, one priest would go furthest into the temple, into the holy of holies. There he would present a sacrifice and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat of God. That blood would cover the sins of the people.

When the tax collector came to the temple and offered that simple prayer, what he was asking was that the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of sins would be for his sins also. His sins were great and many, there was no righteousness in him. But God is righteous and merciful and provides His own payment for sin. The author to the Hebrews writes, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…[therefore, Christ] by a single offering [he] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” When the tax collector begged that God would have mercy on him, he asked that God would make atonement for his sins and wash them away with blood. And, so has God done through the blood of Christ.

Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Those who are truly justified, made righteous, are those who trust not in themselves, but wholly in God’s abundant mercy. The Pharisee prided himself in his goodness. Though it is good to tithe and do other good works, it is wrong to place your confidence in them and measure your salvation against them. Or, insert good intentions, good morals, church attendance, or whatever else you want into that sentence. The Pharisee is anyone who places his hope of salvation and confidence anywhere other than God’s mercy. The tax collector went away justified, forgiven his sins, because he trusted not in himself but in God’s great compassion. Does that mean the tax collector got a free pass to continue on sinning? No, for being forgiven our sins leads us to show that same compassion to others. But, that is the point. We are not saved by who we are, by our works, or by anything else we do. We are saved because God has had mercy on us. He has made atonement for our sins not by the blood of bulls and goats, but by the blood of the only-begotten Son of God.

 

The Dishonest Manager and the Merciful Master

Text: Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)

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.” Jesus says one of the most vexing sentences in all the Gospels in our text today. It seems to follow the parable of the Dishonest Manager as Jesus’ interpretation of the story. Make friends, Jesus says, by means of unrighteous wealth (you may have heard that phrase by another title, mammon), so that when it fails, you may be received into eternal dwellings. What is Jesus telling us to do, and why does the master in the story commend the dishonest manager? To use the familiar Lutheran question: Was ist Das?

When I was a student at our seminary in Fort Wayne, students took three homiletics classes. In these classes they learned what a sermon is, how to write one, and got some practice in delivering them. The first class covered sermon theory, the third class covered wedding and funeral sermons. It’s the second class that covered parables. In my experience, we were offered the choice of any parable to preach on. If you chose the parable we have today, and preached it well, you would get an automatic A in the course. No one picked it.

There are two ways that we’re going to look at the text today. First, we are going to look at it doxologically. That means that we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We’ll do that by focusing not on the manager in the parable, but the master. Second, we’ll receive the parable as a teaching on the proper use of mammon, wealth. For, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money.” In the parable of the Dishonest Manager, Christ teaches us the proper use of wealth and about our merciful Master who forgives.

I.

Let us start with the text. Luke 16 begins, “[Jesus] also said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” On a surface level, the first chunk of the parable needs no explanation. The story is about a wealthy landowner who has hired another man to be the manager of his property. The system was such that the landowner rented his land to tenant farmers. The farmers would pay their rent as a set portion of their crop, usually either in oil or wheat. The manager was in charge of collecting that rent. After a time, charges were brought to the master that his steward was squandering the landowner’s property.

One of the keys of interpreting a parable is to look for things that don’t match up to reality. Our text today is part of an ongoing section in Luke filled with parables, all of which we’ve actually looked at over the last couple months. The one that comes right before our text today is one you all probably know, the parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ll use that as an example. What is it in that parable that doesn’t match up to reality? Well, it’s not the younger son wasting his inheritance. We’ve all heard stories like that in our lives; and, who of us hasn’t wasted our possessions on immoral living? Or, how about the older son, the one who holds himself high and looks down on his brother who has fallen into sin, the one that we would describe as “self-righteous,”? No, both of those are quite common in reality. What doesn’t match is the father. The wealthy father sees his younger son from afar, he hikes up his robe and runs to greet his son. He embraces him, clothes him, and kills the fatted calf – for his son was dead and now is alive.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps better called the parable of the Merciful Father, because it’s not about the son but the father. From it we learn about our merciful God who forgives our sins by the blood of the Lamb. Same thing with the parable of the Dishonest Manager. It could probably be called the parable of the Merciful Master. That is the thing in this parable that doesn’t match up to reality. We would expect that, when the master hears his steward is cheating him, he would immediately throw him in jail. That would be his right. But instead, the master has mercy. And, not just on the manager. Remember what the manager did when he figured he was gonna get fired – he went and lowered the debts of all the master’s debtors. In response to that, the master honored the lowered debts. Again, that doesn’t line up with reality. If you fire your bookkeeper, and he in the meantime fudges the ledger, you wouldn’t be expected to honor those changes.

I said a few minutes ago that the first way we are going to look at this text is doxologically. That is, we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We do that focusing not on the manager, but on the master. But first, the manager: what were his goals? Comfort and self-preservation at all costs. That involved squandering his master’s possessions, and lying to cover it up. I wish we could say that is what doesn’t match up with reality in the parable but, sadly, it does. Even among us Christians. The word for what the manager does is the same for what the prodigal son does in that parable: He takes what is his master’s and he wastes it on sinful living.

And so do we. We are each placed in various vocations by God, and given various resources to glorify Him and contribute to the work of His kingdom. We confess in the Small Catechism that God gives us everything that we need to support this body and life; everything we have and own belongs to God and is given for the support of our lives and for service to our neighbor. But instead, we put own spin on it. We dedicate our time, our money, and our talents, to our own comfort. And then we lie about it.

II.

The dishonest manager squanders his master’s possessions. He takes what isn’t his and uses it in service of his belly, then he lies to cover it up. When the master finds out that his manager, for perhaps a long time, has been cheating, he doesn’t immediately take to punishment. That would have been his legal right: to punish, to throw in jail, to take back everything, perhaps even to kill. Instead, he has mercy. And, so does our God. In His infinite wisdom, God knows every sin we have ever committed. Every single little indiscretion, and every lie we’ve told to cover it up and comfort ourselves, He knows. He knows every time we’ve used our money and possessions in service to iniquity, and when we’ve made idols out of them. He knows these things, and He forgives.

The central point of our parable today is not the manager, but the master. We are all dishonest managers of what God has given us, and yet our master has had mercy on us. He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior. He has taken our iniquity into Himself, and has died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He gives this forgiveness to us freely, not because we are perfect managers, but because He is a merciful Lord.

Now, that leaves us with the last verse of the text, the verse that I read at the beginning of the sermon. 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.” What’s that all about? The master commended the dishonest manager for being so clever, and then Jesus clobbers us with this verse of interpretation. The simplest way to understand it is this: Jesus uses the word, “mammon.” Mammon is a Hebrew word that means wealth and possessions that are above and beyond what you need to directly support your life. The world says that anything you can make over what you need to eat and have a home, that you can use for play. But, here Jesus says that proper use of everything that doesn’t go directly to the support of the body is for God’s glory and for service to our neighbor.

Everything. That’s why Jesus couches this in the parable of the Dishonest Manager, or rather, the Merciful Master. We are the dishonest manager. We misuse the things that God gives us and we lie to cover it up. But, God has had mercy on us and given His only Son to die for us. Through His Word and Sacrament, God daily conforms us to the image of His Son and leads us to use our time and possessions in ways that are pleasing to Him.

Our text today is hard passage. We can’t claim to have plumbed the depths of its meaning today; it’s good that it’ll come up again this time next year. However, when viewed in the context of the surrounding passages, particularly the Prodigal Son, we can see that it isn’t primarily about the manager who squanders and lies, but the Master who is merciful. Such is our God, who forgives us poor wretched managers.

The Fulfillment of What Was Spoken

Text: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation. Technically it fell yesterday, July 2nd, but it’s within bounds to celebrate today. And, it’s fitting to do so, because it’s not a holiday we always get to talk about. In fact, our Gospel reading today doesn’t come up anywhere else in Lectionary. So, it’s possible that we might not remember it very well. Another reason why we don’t talk about the Visitation very much is because it does involve talking about Mary. I think the typical Lutheran response to hearing the name of Mary to shrivel back with a tendency to reject all things that smell Roman Catholic. But, historically, this has not always been the case for Lutherans. Our own Book of Concord says that Mary is worthy of the most plentiful honors. But, in no way is she to be made equal to Christ. We give thanks to God for His grace to her and see in her an example of the faith to follow.

That brings us to the Visitation. What is it all about? It’s not about Mary; It’s about Christ – hence the white paraments. The Visitation is about how God remembers and fulfills His promises. Throughout the Old Testament God promised to send a Savior who would die and rise for the forgiveness of sins. Now this promise is being fulfilled in Christ, before He was even born. Christ, in the womb – in His very conception by the Holy Spirit – is at work to fulfill His promises. The presence of God’s Savior caused John the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb, Elizabeth to prophesy, and Mary to sing the Magnificat. In all these awesome images, there remains a central truth. The Visitation shows us that God makes good on His promises: to Elizabeth, to Mary, to all His people, and to us.

I.

You might’ve noticed that our hymns today pull us back into Christmas. The things we remember and celebrate today are part of that context; they’re connected to the incarnation and birth of our Savior. Our text comes from St. Luke’s Gospel. Both he and St. Matthew give us the infancy narrative of Jesus, but in Luke’s Gospel the Holy Spirit gives us a little more of a backstory. And really, that’s how St. Luke does things. He says in his introduction that he has set out to write, “an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” St. Luke wants to sit down and write an orderly account of things so that we can have a firm record and be confident in the hope that we have. So, the idea we’re operating with today is that Jesus doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Jesus has a context. The context of the Visitation is that Jesus comes as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Today we’ve got two big ones.

The first promise St. Luke covers is the birth of John the Baptist. We do get to talk about John on a few occasions, and his birth was promised as well. In fact, some 400 years earlier God promised through the prophet Malachi that He would send his messenger to serve in the office of Elijah and prepare the way of the Lord. At the time of our text there was an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. Even in their advanced age they longed for a child, but Elizabeth was barren. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple and told him that God had heard their prayers – Elizabeth will bear a son. The name of their son will be John. John, Gabriel said, will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb and will go before the Lord in the power of Elijah to prepare His way. By giving this promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, God is fulfilling His promise from before. This is the first promise we need to remember going into the Visitation.

The second promise is the one God made to Mary. When Elizabeth had been pregnant with John for sixth months, Gabriel was again sent by God – this time to Mary. Mary lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to Joseph. Gabriel appeared to her to tell her that she will conceive and bear a son, Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…and of His kingdom there will be no end.” When Mary asked how this will be, since she was a virgin, Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of God will overshadow her, so that the child she is to bear will be the Son of God. As a sign to her that this will happen, Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth has also conceived, in her old age. For, nothing is impossible with God. Having heard the Word of God, Mary responded in faith. “Let it be to me according to your word.” This is how the Lutheran Confessions speak about Mary – that, as she responded to God’s Word in faith, so we should pray that we do the same.

II.

Now we get to the Visitation itself, Mary meeting Elizabeth and John meeting Jesus. Remember, the Visitation is about God fulfilling His promises: to Elizabeth, to Mary, to His people, and to us. St. Luke writes, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” So, as soon as Mary heard that Elizabeth was pregnant, she got up and went to Judah to see. If you had heard that the Lord had done some awesome thing, you’d probably go see, too. When she arrived in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth she greeted them. This greeting was probably the typical Hebrew greeting, which would involve invoking the Lord’s blessing on the house and those who dwell in it.

Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb. Though he had not yet been born, he heard the Lord’s Word spoken by Mary and leaped for joy at the presence of the incarnate Christ. This is one reason that we believe children are able to have faith. The Greek word means infant, but it also includes the unborn. At this point, Mary had just conceived, but even then, Christ was at work fulfilling His promises. Recognizing this fact, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, literally “chanted,” “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And, she’s right. Mary is blessed to carry for nine months the holy Son of God and redeemer of the world. But, the word here for blessed is in the passive voice. Mary is not blessed because she is actively holy, but because God is holy and has been gracious to her, forgiving her sins, and blessing her to bear Jesus. In a similar way, we are also blessed when we “bear” Jesus and carry in Him in us as we receive His body and blood in the Sacrament.

Remember, the Visitation is not about Mary. It’s not about Elizabeth or John the Baptist; it’s about Jesus. It’s about how God is fulfilling His Word by becoming incarnate to fulfill the Law and die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. And that work is happening here, even before Christ has left the womb. But that brings us to the question of the proper place of Mary. As the Lutheran Confessions say, we honor Mary and give thanks to God that He choose her to bear the Christ, but then we leave it there. Mary is in heaven, as are all the saints, but we neither pray to them nor invoke them. Instead, we commend them into God’s care, giving thanks for their steadfast faith and work, and pray that God would stir us on to follow their example.

III.

But, like we’ve said a few times: we’re celebrating the Visitation today as an event in Christ’s life and moment where we see God fulfilling His promises. He promised in Malachi to send a messenger before the Lord, and that is fulfilled in His promise to Elizabeth. He promised in Genesis that He would send a Messiah to crush the devil, to David that a descendent of his would sit on the throne forever, in Isaiah that a virgin will conceive and bear the Son of God, and now that promise has been fulfilled. That’s why Elizabeth exclaims that, in Mary’s womb, her Lord has come to visit her. It’s why John the Baptist leaps in the womb and why Mary is led by the Holy Spirit to sing words that have been repeated by the Church for the last two millennia. These words tells us what today means for us.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
In the Visitation, we celebrate God’s faithfulness to His promise. We magnify the Lord and rejoice in Him, for He has looked on us in our low estate. We have all sinned and deserve to lie in dust and ashes. Yet, the Lord has had mercy and remembered His promise to our fathers. He promised to show mercy to those who fear him, to scatter the proud and bring down the mighty, but fill the hungry with good things and help His servant, Israel. And so He has.

The feast we celebrate today isn’t about Mary; it’s not about John the Baptist or Elizabeth, but about Jesus. In the Visitation we see that God keeps His promises. He remembers His people and has mercy on them. He raises those of low estate, and sets our feet upon the rock of salvation in Christ. To Him be all glory. Amen.

The Lord is My Shepherd

Audio: Trinity III Sermon

Text: Luke 15:1-10

St. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “[Cast] all your anxieties on [the Lord], for He cares for you.” Likewise, St. Paul wrote in our epistle text, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. This past week at St. John we have hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. The title this year was “Barnyard Roundup: Jesus Gathers Us Together.” It was based on the verses of Psalm 23, and our readings this week perfectly capture that theme. Particularly, this morning we will be looking at our Gospel text, which contains some of the most beloved and comforting words in all Scripture.

In our Gospel Jesus pictures Himself to us as a shepherd. Though He’s in charge of a multitude of sheep, He does not hesitate to drop everything to seek and save the one sheep gone astray. When He finds it, rejoicing, He places it on His shoulders and gathers it back into the fold. Jesus also commends Himself to us in the parable of the Lost Coin. There a woman who has ten coins loses one. She drops everything, lights a lamp, and searches till she finds it. And, like the shepherd, she rejoices. So, we see, the Lord is our shepherd who seeks us out, who saves us, and gathers us through His Word.

I.

Our Gospel reading is building on a theme in Luke’s Gospel. One of my commentaries calls this section of Luke the Table Fellowship section. In this whole chunk of Luke, Jesus is reclining at table in the house of one of the head Pharisees. One of the key themes of this discussion is shared between Jesus and John the Baptist – a theme we usually take up in Advent – the importance of repentance in the life of a Christian. You know the words of John the Baptist’s ministry, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It was the midst of that meal that Jesus spoke our text last week about the Great Banquet.

He told a parable about a man who gave a great banquet and invited many to come and feast. When the time was ready he sent his servant to gather those who had been invited. The way things worked back then, you would send out an initial invitation saying there’s a feast coming up. Then, when the feast had come, you would go and gather everyone up. But, when the servant went to do that, everyone turned him down. One claimed he bought a field and couldn’t come; another, oxen; another, newly married. The master then sent his servant to call people who had not been invited, first those in the city: the lame and crippled. These represent the tax collectors and “sinners” in our reading. Then, even those outside the city were compelled to come to the feast. These are those, like us, who were born outside God’s covenant people.

Here’s where we get to Luke 15. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” Jesus was teaching about repentance and faith. The tax collectors and sinners were hearing Jesus’ words in faith, confessing their sins and being forgiven. The Holy Spirit was working through the Word to create repentance and faith in them. They had learned to recognize their sin and believe in Jesus for their salvation. Meanwhile, the Pharisees were doing as they usually were. They were grumbling, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So, Jesus told them this parable.

II.    

He said,

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing…When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees and us to show us just how much He cares about us and what He does for us.

First, Jesus seeks us out. In the parable Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. And like sheep, we are prone to wander. Not content to live within the fold of God, Adam and Eve began to wander, thinking grass would be greener in the field yonder. Ever since, we who have been born of flesh and blood also go astray. But, what does the shepherd do? He leaves the other ninety-nine in the care of faithful undershepherds, and drops everything to go and find the one lost sheep. This is what Christ did by emptying Himself of His eternal glory, which He shared with the Father and Spirit before all time, and taking on Himself our human flesh.

I read somewhere that when sheep get lost, once they realize they’re in an unfamiliar place, they will lay down and not move. Then, when the shepherd finds it, he has to physically pick it up and carry it, because otherwise it ain’t going anywhere. I wonder if that isn’t a good description of us, the sheep. As we walk through this valley of shadow, we do wander. We wander into all sorts of sins, physical, mental, and spiritual. And, sometimes we hunker down. We get lost in our sins and we forget that we’re sinning. Or, rather, we choose to persist in our sin. That is, until Christ finds us.

How does He search for us and find us? He seeks us out through the preaching of the Word. He works through the preaching of the Law to show us our sin and then He calls to us through the Gospel saying, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He sends pastors to share His saving Word and to administer the sacraments, so that the Gospel may have free course to create and sustain faith throughout the world. Then through Holy Baptism He puts us on His shoulders. In Baptism we are united to His death for our sins and the forgiveness that He won on the cross is given to us through that sacred washing. Just like the lost sheep may kick and fight at first when the shepherd picks it up, so the Old Adam in us kicks and screams within us as it is drowned in the water and the Word.

Through the preaching of the Word and in Holy Baptism, Christ seeks us out and saves us. He finds us and, rejoicing, puts us on His shoulders. Then, on His shoulders, He gathers us back to His flock – the Church. And, actually, that was theme of VBS this week – Jesus, our Good Shepherd, gathers us together. As Scripture says, all we like sheep had gone astray, yet He, in love, sought us. He took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He died on the cross and rose from the dead so that we might live with Him (our shepherd) in His kingdom (the Church).

III.

The second parable in our Gospel is the parable of the Lost Coin, and has much in common with the first parable. In it a woman loses a coin. The number is lowered from one hundred sheep to ten coins, to two sons later. Jesus lowers the number to show us how important each individual lost sheep, coin, and son is to Him. After losing the coin, the woman lights a lamp and searches diligently until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her, since she had found the coin that she had lost.

If we keep in mind that the parable goes with the parable of the Lost Sheep and is about how Christ seeks out, saves, and gather each individual lost sheep, then we might also be able to talk about what it means to be found, saved, and gathered by Christ into the Church. King David sings in the psalms that the Word of God is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. Christ Himself is the light that shines in the darkness and He has given the lamp of His Word to His bride, the Church. Like the woman in the parable, we are called to shine the lamp of God’s Word into the dark places of the world to find the lost coin.

Our temptation is always to be like the Pharisees and scribes. The Old Adam in us wants us to point and scoff at tax collectors and “sinners;” but then we would be blind to the fact that we are all chief of sinners. We all like sheep have gone astray and need to found by Christ. And so we are. We confess in the Creed that we have been called by the Gospel. Through the preaching of the Word, Christ has sought us out. He sends His Word into all the earth to find each lost sheep. Then, through Baptism He places His lost sheep on His shoulders and gathers them into His fold. Having been gathered into His fold, we also seek to save the lost, sharing with them the hope and comfort that the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want.

Christ, the Way of Love

Texts: 1 Sam. 16, 1 Cor. 13, Lk. 18

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in our Epistle reading about the enduring importance of love in the life of a Christian. You cannot have a right faith before God if the fruits of faith, love especially, are not displayed in your life. Paul uses himself as an example. If he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, he would be as useless as noisy gong or clanging cymbal. If he were to have the gift of prophecies and a faith that was strong enough to move mountains, without love, he would be nothing. If he gave everything he had, even his own life, without love, it would all be for nothing. To paraphrase the blessed saint, if you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’.

The same is true for us. If we do not have love and if we show ourselves to be unloving people, then it seems that our faith is misplaced. For, a living and active faith in Christ necessitates, and actually produces, love for our neighbor. But let’s stop for a second here and talk about Christ and His love. Our fathers in the faith selected our texts today and placed them on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Sunday before the 40-day journey to the cross, for a reason. In the Epistle, St. Paul extols love. It is patient and kind; it bears and endures all things. In the Gospel reading we heard Christ speaking of the things which He’ll endure for us: being mocked, spit upon, flogged, and being killed. The reason He undertakes all these things is the same as why He gives sight to blind Bartimaeus, and it’s the same reason why David, though the youngest of his brothers and last in line to be king, was chosen to shepherd God’s people: love. As we enter the season of Lent, we see in Christ the way of love. By choosing David over His older brothers, and by healing the blind beggar others rebuked, Jesus shows Himself to be the true way of love.

  1.  

We see this play out a few different ways in our readings this week. In our Old Testament text the boy who would become King David is anointed by the prophet Samuel. The current king, Saul, disobeyed the Lord’s Word and was rejected as king, though not immediately deposed. Samuel also anointed Saul to be king earlier, and one of the things that Scripture notes is that Saul was the son of a rich man. He was handsome, a head and shoulders taller than anyone around. Even though he was of the least of the tribes of Israel, he still looked the part of a king, and so he was. But, one of striking things that we see through the Lord’s Word is that He doesn’t always do things the way that would seem right. Particularly for Samuel and us, He doesn’t choose the strongest or the oldest for His inheritance. The Lord spoke to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

And so it was that the Lord anointed David, the youngest, to be king. This is just like how, out of Abraham’s sons, God chose the younger – Isaac. Of Isaac’s sons, it was Jacob who received the birthright and inheritance. Out of Jacob’s sons, Christ does not come from the line of Reuben, the firstborn, but from Judah. And now, here, is David – not the oldest, not the strongest, but the still the one from whom an offspring will come who will sit on the throne forever. This is how God works. He doesn’t choose us because of who we are or what we do, but because of who He is and what He’s done in Christ. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, including we, who like St. Paul, are untimely born. We all live two millennia after Christ walked the earth, and yet He dwells among us now in grace, truth, mercy, and love, in His Word and Sacraments. He daily and richly forgives our sins and binds up our broken hearts.

In His love for the lost and fallen, Christ reaches out to the untouchables, those scorned and rebuked by society and considered least in the eyes of the world. In our text from St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus is already on His final journey to Jerusalem and draws near to Jericho. This will be Jesus’ final miracle before His passion, and it is a work of love. Along the roadside sat a blind beggar, and when he heard that Jesus was passing by he began crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” What he could not see physically with his eyes, he saw with the eyes of faith. This Jesus is the Son of David promised so long ago, who would usher in the kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins. The crowd rebuked the man and told him to be silent, but Jesus stops. He shows Himself the true Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is attacked by robbers on his way to Jericho. Now, here in Jericho, Jesus stops to have mercy on a man in need. Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately the man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God. All the people around also gave praise to the Father.

  1.   

In choosing David, the least of his brothers, and by healing the blind man who was worth so little in the eyes of the world, Christ shows us the way of God, the way of love. Christ Himself is the image of the invisible God, the embodiment of love. He is patient and kind. He does not shame us for our sin, but daily walks with us and forgives us when we fall. He does not envy or boast. He is not arrogant or rude, and He doesn’t resent us for all our transgressions against Him. Instead, He bears and endures all things for us, even the cross. This Sunday puts us at the brink of Lent. In just a few short days we will adorn ourselves in ashes, marking the Church’s season of focused repentance. Christ teaches us about all the things that His love for us will lead Him to endure. He says,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

St. Paul wrote that if he were to have power to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if he had faith to move mountains, and if he delivered up his body to death, but had not love, it would all be for nothing. My friends in Christ, Jesus is love. He is mercy, grace; forgiveness. These are what drove Him to the cross for you. It’s what lead Him to endure being handed over to the Gentiles, being mocked and treated shamefully. He bore being spit on and being flogged. Then, His love for you led Him to allow those nails to be driven into His flesh with hammers, and to hang there helpless, bearing in Himself the wrath of God against sin. He did this all so that, as He rose from the dead, so, too, will all those who believe in Him.

This love that Christ has for us, the mercy that He showed by choosing us for salvation from before the foundation of the world – and that not because of our works, but because of His grace – will never end. All things will pass away. In Paul’s language, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away, but love will not. In this life we don’t always see things clearly, for we know only in part and see as through a mirror dimly, but soon we will see the love of God in Christ Jesus face to face. And though our lives seem like one great Lent, a time full of trials and cycles of sinning and repenting over and over again, soon we shall know fully the eternal love that Jesus has for us. And while we are in this life, He looks past our sin and shame, past our weaknesses and temptations, and He brings us the forgiveness that He won for us on the cross. He chose David, the least of his brothers, and He healed blind Bartimaeus, to show to us His way: love. As He shows us His love, through His Word and Sacraments, He also strengthens us to show forth that love. May He ever continue the preaching of His Word and the administration of the Sacraments among us, both gifts of His love, as we enter His Lent and look to His Easter.