“He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37).

But who is He?

If we think back to Creation, Moses tells us who He is, who has done all things well, when he writes, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Only God can make the deaf hear and the mute speak, and no one is good but God alone, so, doing all things well, is here identified as God in the flesh.

It’s God, in the flesh, interacting with this man. The Creator with His creation. (more…)

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thusly: ‘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.’ But 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” (Luke 18:11-14).

With this parable, no one has a problem identifying right and wrong. We all know that the Pharisee is wrong. (more…)

Luke 19:41 And when [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

When you hear the word visitation, something very specific may come to mind, but when Jesus uses the word visitation, what does He mean?

(more…)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).

When Jesus says, “Beware false prophets,” He’s saying different things to different people.

For those who hear and learn of God, Jesus says “Beware false prophets,” so that you’ll always test the teaching that you hear against the Word of God.

For those who teach and tell of God, Jesus says, “Beware false prophets,” so that you’ll always speak what needs to be spoken—to sheep and goat alike.

And for those who wish to be saved, Jesus says, “Beware false prophets,” to make sure we all know that there are false prophets out there, desiring not only your unbelief but that you spread it. (more…)

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said…’I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way…’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven’” (Mark 8:1-5).

Don’t be fooled.

The problem in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t a lack of food. (more…)

Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Now, it’s easy to agree with Jesus, whatever He says.

He’s Jesus.

When asked, “Do you agree with Jesus? What He says? What He does?” you’ll say, “Yes.”

He’s Jesus.

So it’s not that we disagree with what Jesus says, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees or you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, paraphrase).

We agree. But that’s the easy part.

Do we understand—that’s much more difficult—and much more helpful. (more…)

God desires two things from you: labor and hope.

He’s given you various responsibilities according to your vocation as father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker.

You owe God and neighbor work, service, labor—according to your vocation—whatever God has given you to do.

The Christian is active, not idle.

He may piddle but not loafer.

He might be slow, but he is not lazy.

God desires two things from you: labor and hope.

“When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch'” (Luke 5:4), and there, it’s as if Jesus said, “Do the work required of your vocation—labor—and let Me see to your sustenance—hope” (cf. Johann Spangenberg, The Christian Year of Grace, 258).

We have no problem with what Jesus says unless He says it right after a twelve-hour shift where we don’t make any money.

Fishermen, who caught no fish and are told, basically, “Try again,” aren’t going to hear that very well.

Simon answers Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5).

We know what Simon Peter says next, and we know what happens, but that’s not the point.

The point is, we know God desires us to labor and to hope, and on a good and easy day, we have no problem with that.

But Simon and company had toiled all night.

They’re washing their nets, having caught no fish.

They don’t get to just go home and come back the next day. They have to hold in their hands the evidence of their failure, and—more than that—they have to clean it.

If you’ve ever gone to the trouble of hosting a feast, inviting guests, and having none of them show up—cleaning up after your rejected invitation is a bitter and toilsome task.

When Simon says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing” (Luke 5:5), he regrets going out; he regrets his profession; he doubts his ability; he wonders if he needs to change something; he’s ashamed because other people see him and know.

But Simon has heard about Jesus.

St. Luke records that Jesus had begun His ministry, preached, and healed before calling the disciples.

Simon has heard already of Jesus, His ministry, preaching, and healing—that’s the only explanation of how he could also say: “But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

Today’s Gospel lesson shows us that God desires us to labor and hope—but it also points out that our works fail but God’s Word doesn’t.

We have phrases that get at the different meanings of what’s going on.

To be a “fair weather fan,” for example, means you go to the games when it’s nice but stay home when it’s bad out. Or, really, that you only support something when it’s popular to do so.

It’s easy to labor and hope when you’re getting paid and everything’s going well.

Lose a job, lose a house, lose a child and be told to labor and hope—and what was easy last week is, suddenly, terribly difficult.

This is why faith is more important than your job.

More important than your family.

Why faith is most important.

Jesus says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (cf. Luke 9:25).

If we did not suffer—if we always caught more fish than we needed—we would not be trained to need God.

Job had the whole world and the family and servants that go with it.

He lost it all and was tormented by his wife and his friends, because he needed to learn—and his wife and his friends needed to learn—and we need to learn—that “our days are past, our plans, the desires of our heart, are broken off” (cf. Job 17:11).

The miraculous catch of fish is completely unexpected. It goes against all reason and comprehension.

It’s not that Simon was a bad fisherman or that Jesus just happened to have a secret spot full of fish.

The comparison is between our labors and the Word of the Lord.

Between the hope we have in doing things ourselves and the hope we have in Christ.

We know, as Christians, as Lutherans, to work hard.

We know, as Christians, as Lutherans, to trust in God.

But we are ill-equipped to offer comfort in the midst of suffering.

I’ve heard it said at funerals, I’m sure you have, too: “It’ll get better with time.”

I’ve heard it said to people in anguish, “Just pray about it.”

There are lots of phrases that encourage us to take control:

There’s, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Put your big boy britches on.”

“Just Do It.”

“Git-R-Done.”

“Elbow grease.”

“Grandma’s Law.”

“And when the going gets tough. The tough get going.”

I have no problem with any of those sayings.

But we should also allow the failure of our works to teach us to rely on God.

For a fisherman—failure teaches him to thank God for each catch—and never to waste a single fish.

For a Christian—failure teaches him to thank God for His mercy—and never to take it for granted.

Death—the failure of a sinful body—should teach us to repent.

The death of a child—the fact that children die—should teach not only to repent and to cherish our children—but to have them.

Sometimes, failure should be met with the encouragement to get back up: “It’s not the number of times you fall but the number of times you get back up…”

At all times, though, failure should be understood as a call to repentance and faith in Jesus. “There’ll come a time when you can’t get back up. What will you do then?”

God desires two things from you: labor and hope.

He knows your labor fails to save you.

He commands labor not because it saves or because He needs it. He doesn’t.

God commands labor because He knows it may, can, and will help someone else, either by the fruit of that labor, the example of it, or where it takes you next.

God desires us to labor—to work, to care for, to provide, to teach, to help.

And God desires us to hope—in the midst of this veil of tears, in the midst of our failures, in the midst of suffering.

Because when we suffer, St. Paul writes, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, …endurance…character, and character…hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Simon, James, and John labored all night and took nothing.

They failed in their vocation.

Their labor produced suffering.

But in Jesus’ word, they hope.

And they were not—they are not—put to shame.

The day will come where your labors produce suffering, when your work or body fails.

God is merciful.

He didn’t give you work to do that you would boast in your work.

He gave you work to do that you would boast in the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 1:31) who redeemed you from failure, saves you from sin and death, and beats down satan under His feet.

He gave you work to do that your boast, in the Lord, would be heard and seen by others, that they would hear and be glad that God is merciful.

That He has worked for our salvation.

And that all who hope in Him will be saved.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 5 Sermon, 2018
Luke 5:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

God has mercy on us. Then—we come to know God as merciful.

It would be impossible for us to know God as merciful if He waited to show mercy until we knew that He was merciful.

Compassion. Kindness. Caring for the needs of others. Mercy doesn’t condemn or stand in judgment.

Mercy forgives.

We wouldn’t know this unless told.

Experience can’t teach it.

(more…)

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with referring to today’s Gospel lesson as the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son—but—that’s not what Jesus says.

St. Luke writes: “So [Jesus] told them this parable…” (Luke 15:3).

This parable is singular—but three stories follow.

The gospel lesson for the Third Sunday after Trinity is either the first two stories (the lost sheep and the lost coin) or the third story (the lost son).

It’s not supposed to be all three—which is what was read today.

We read them all because Jesus told them this one parable. If nothing else, Jesus wants us to hear and understand them together.

And when we do that—the shock is maybe a little bit greater. (more…)