Love in Action

Faith Lutheran in Seward, Nebraska
Faith Lutheran in Seward, Nebraska

This past weekend I was invited to preach, lead worship, and lead an adult forum at Faith Lutheran Church in Seward, Nebraska on Sunday November 20th, 2016. My sermon was part of the congregation’s three week stewardship focus on “Faith in Action. Grace in Action. Love in Action.” It was a great pleasure to be with the congregation, and what follows is the majority of the text that I preached. The message based on the day’s theme gospel passage, Luke 6:32-38, as well as lessons from Isaiah 58:3-8, and 1 John 4:13, 16-20

“But love your enemies… Be merciful… Forgive… and Give.” These are some of the things that love looks like. These are some of the attributes of what God’s love looks like, and point to who God is. They are also charges for us today.

Taking a step back, what a rich text this is. And what a challenging gospel passage it is for this Christ the King Sunday, the day we traditionally celebrate Christ’s victory over death, remembering that Christ’s kingdom, kingly authority and rule is grounded in an active love, like that of one who gets down on their knees to wash their neighbor’s feet clean.

Today is also a day that allows us to remember that no matter what may happen in the world, no matter how exciting or deeply troubling an election cycle, God in Christ is present, with us, and for us. As today is Christ the King Sunday, it is also the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday, begins a new year in the life of the church, with the first Sunday of Advent. Pastor Rob will be back up front leading and preaching, and I will be at my wife’s church in Fontanelle for her first Advent as a pastor, being the good pastor’s spouse helping hang the greens and put up the trees.

The stewardship theme on the church sign outside for all to see.
The stewardship theme on the church sign outside for all to see, “Faith, Grace, and Love in Action.”

But for today, it is a great privilege to be with you on this the third Sunday of your three week stewardship emphasis, “Faith in Action. Grace in Action. Love in Action.”

What might this love in action mean? We get a glimpse in this week’s gospel. Love in action is far greater than just showing love and sharing with those you like, your closest family and friends. This love in action is a genuine willingness to be in relationship with people you might otherwise choose to not spend time with. This love in action, is a genuine love and concern for the neighbor, and it is grounded in our joyful response to the love and pure gifts of God who we know most clearly through Jesus Christ in the stories of the gospels.

Pastor Rob described it well in the stewardship letter he wrote writing that, “in Christ Jesus, God has not only loved the unloveable, God has put God’s love into action, healing, helping, and feeding even God’s enemies, and given us God’s own Spirit, so we too may love.”

This love for the world and for the neighbor is a central part of the Gospel of Luke. Biblical scholar Justo Gonzalez writes that Luke “wants to make clear that Christian love is not just a sentiment or a feeling, but also an attitude leading to concrete action,” like “do good to those who hate you.”[1]

Today’s passage comes as part of Luke’s recounting of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, similar to the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Today we started in verse 32. But the immediately preceding verse in chapter 6 is “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”[2] This is commonly held as a “golden rule.” For Luke, however, this goes a bit further, and is explained in the way the gospel continues about the importance of loving your enemies, forgiveness, and giving without expectation of any return. According to theologian Luke Timothy Johnson, “The ‘golden rule’ of ‘do as you would want done’ is not the ultimate norm here, but rather, ‘do as God would do.’” [3] The core then of what neighbor love means, or what it means to love your neighbor, is to “do as God would do.”

How on earth can we do that? We’re not God, and thanks be to God for that. Thanks be to God, that it is not up to us to earn salvation. Thanks be to God, that it is not up to us, to figure out the mysteries of life, and God’s promises. But because of these promises, and the pure gifts of God, we are able, and perhaps even called to respond to them, through our love in action.

I mean think for a second. Here we have a God, who loves us so much, that God sends God’s Son, to live among us, to die, and rise again for us. That’s the work of salvation. And it’s a gift, we can’t do anything about, but say thank you and then choose to live a life of a joyful response to that good news. And with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can, as a community, discern how God is calling us to live and be in the world.

Through the Holy Spirit, we are led and shown ways to bear God’s love in this beautiful and exciting yet broken and hurting world.

One of the many ways that this congregation is showing love in action.
One of the many ways that this congregation is showing love in action.

We heard some of them in the different readings for today. As the prophet Isaiah reminds, when the bonds of injustice are loosened, when the pressure or weight of the yoke is relieved and removed, when the oppressed are set free, when we share our food with the hungry, when we offer warmth and shelter to the homeless, and clothe those who are naked, without any qualification, other than people needing help, that as when we do as God would do.[4]

When we welcome the refugee and stranger, sharing in the work of organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Lutheran Family Services here in Nebraska, doing the important work of refugee resettlement, that is as God would do, as we remember soon that the Holy Family itself was refugees shortly after Christ’s birth.

When we speak up and work with and for those who are at the margins, people who are victims or pushed aside because of perceived differences, walls, barriers, or fears, that is as what God would do.

We sing with the psalmist, that “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”[5] This is a love that abides even in times of fear. This is a steadfast love that continues, even when we lose our way and think that we cannot do it. This is a love that is slow to anger, but it doesn’t mean, that God doesn’t ever get angry.

When we don’t do as God would do, and willingly don’t; when we don’t heed God’s call to love, then the woes that the Gospel of Luke shares a little earlier in chapter 6 become very real. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”[6]

I should step back. I am passionate about this, as I hope all of you are. This was the central idea of my thesis in seminary, so when Pastor Rob invited me to preach and told me of today’s gospel passage I was overjoyed, yet a bit dreading it, because it is such a central passage to my faith understandings.

This idea of neighbor love, love in action, can be convicting, and one that calls us all to confess and seek God’s forgiveness, grace, and steadfast love.

We may see all the needs around us, the challenges and problems in the world, and choose to recoil, retract, and hide. It might be a natural “flight” response. However, we can’t fly away and hide. Because, we believe in a God who shows up, that means we need to too.

We know that “God is love.”[7] We also know that this love is both beautifully simple, and overwhelmingly complex. “We love because God first loved us.” Yet, we also know that, Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”[8]

We are created by a God who knows and loves us. We are called by this God, to be bearers of this love in the world.

We are called, “to love our enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.”[9] What might this mean for us two weeks after our country, state, and local elections? What might this mean for this congregation, a vibrant community of faith here in Seward, a loving community, but like many, one where conflict has probably surfaced over the years for one reason or another as it responds to a changing world?

We are called, to “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful.”[10] What might this mean for us, in the midst of one of the most divisive and polarized chapters of our country’s history? What might this mean for us as Lutheran Christians, bearers of a wonderful theology of grace, that allows us to live in the tensions of a Kingdom of God that is both “now and not yet?” What might this mean of a tension that Martin Luther describes of us both being “free, bound to none; and yet, also at the same time, servants, bound to our neighbors”?

We are called, to “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”[11] When we passed the peace this morning, did anyone seek out someone they needed to forgive, or seek forgiveness from?

If my wife was here today, I would have walked over, given her a big hug, and asked for her forgiveness. You see, being that we’re new to Nebraska we just moved into her church’s parsonage a week ago Friday, so there are still boxes everywhere. The stress of that, and of figuring out what it means for us both to be rostered leaders of the church, has reared its ugly head in the form of my impatience lately. And I, like I assume many spouses, have not been as loving and kind as I am called to be. And that’s something I need to seek forgiveness for.

But beyond our partners in life, to be in relationship with each other in general, our neighbors, and our strangers, means to be willing and vulnerable to admit when we are wrong, and to forgive. This is perhaps the biggest sign of God’s love in action, the reconciliation that is made possible through it. It’s also perhaps the hardest aspect of showing that love in the world.

We are called and reminded to, “Give, and it will be given to you.”[12] How are you giving that which God has entrusted to you? How do you steward your finances and money for the sake of God’s work in the world? How do you steward your time responding to the needs you see here, in your homes and families, out in the community of Seward, across the state of Nebraska, and the larger world? How do you steward your passions, vocations, and gifts, responding to God’s unique call to each and every one, to use what has been given, for the sake of our neighbors in need? The answers to these questions are different for everyone. But they start to tell the story of who you are as a steward of God’s love. And they point to “love in action.”

This love in action, unique to each and everyone’s own individual stories, is grounded in a love that we know through Jesus, who, as we know through baptism and communion, is the king who is, “given for you,” “shed for you,” and “with you to the very end of the age.” These promises of Christ’s relationship with us, send us out, and allow us to be in a relationship with each other, and all others, who have been created and are loved by God.

I have only been on the ground in Nebraska for two months, but one thing is very clear to me. This synod, its 245 congregations are very generous, and understand what it means to be the church together by showing ‘love in action.’

“Love in action” in Nebraska means sponsoring Campus Ministry at college campuses across the state. It means supporting the work of serving arms of the church like Mosaic and Lutheran Family Services in responding to the needs of people in our midst, who otherwise, might be pushed to the margins or forgotten in the shadow behind one of society’s many walls.

Sharing the Children's Message at Faith, while the kids and much of the congregation are wearing their "God's Work, Our Hands" shirts for service projects and ministry after worship.
A photo taken by one of the members of Faith, while I was sharing the Children’s Message, while the kids and much of the congregation are wearing their “God’s Work, Our Hands” shirts for service projects and ministry after worship.

Love in action means supporting new and transforming ministries, and the raising up of new leaders for service in the church and the world. Love in action means sponsoring food banks, care closets, community gardens, sewing and sending quilts, building homes, wearing your yellow “God’s Work, Our Hands” shirts that you are wearing today as signs of your love in action, and so many more local congregational responses to the needs in the community.

Love in action means equipping each and every one of the 100,000 members of the ELCA in Nebraska, like you, to know that each person is loved by God, called, and created for unique vocations, and doing God’s work in the world whether it’s easily seen or not.

Also, in my first two months here, I have come to believe, that your pastor, Pastor Rob, is a wise and loving pastor who deeply understands God’s love and stewardship, who also shows ‘love in action.’ In his stewardship letter, he also wrote, “God has given us God’s spirit, living in us, tugging at our hearts when we don’t hide from our neighbors in need. That is love. Stewardship of the gifts God has given us is Faith, Grace, and Love in action.”

How do you steward all that you have been entrusted with and all that you are?

How you answer that, is how you show love in action.

And for each and every one of your answers to that question, I say, on behalf of the larger church, the other 244 congregations of the Nebraska Synod, and as a fellow participant with you in God’s work in the world, thank you! Thank you for showing love to your neighbors. Thank you for living and doing as God would have you do. Thank you, for your shared ministry together. And thank you, most importantly, for being you, for sharing your stories, and showing God’s love in your midst. Amen.

Works Cited and Referenced:

[1] Gonzalez, 94.

[2] Luke 6:31.

[3] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina 3, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 112, as quoted by Justo Gonzalez in Luke, 94.

[4] Isaiah 58:6-7.

[5] Psalm 103:8.

[6] Luke 6:24-26.

[7] 1 John 4:16.

[8] 1 John 4:19-20.

[9] Luke 6:35.

[10] Luke 6:36.

[11] Luke 6:37.

[12] Luke 6:38.

Building Bridges, Not Walls

This past weekend, I was consecrated as a deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was a wonderful day, full of celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit. I was excited to write all about it and share my joy this week here on the blog. That will have to come in a later post. Because today, I am about as a joyless as I have ever been.

I have been raised to believe in the power of communities to come together.

I have been raised to believe in the power of people working together, so that all might do well and have an equal opportunity regardless of ethnicity, skin color, religious belief, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, relationship status, and any other forms of identity and experience.

I believe in the importance of working for the common good.

I believe in building bridges, not walls. 

Build bridges, not walls.
Build bridges, not walls.

That’s why today is so sad. It is so hard. There is no way to find joy in knowing that my country, has voted for someone who openly ran on a platform of division and building walls between people and communities, not bridges. My country has voted for a man who created and fed off an irrational  sense of fear of the other.

My country has voted for a man who claims to be a Christian, and whom many Christians believe to be one. But there is no way to square his platform with my understanding of the Christian faith. For, if you open up the gospels, one can easily see that where ever society creates walls and tries to separate communities, Jesus shows up on the margins or the other side of the wall in relationship with the other, the outsider, the Samaritan woman at the well, the leper long since forgotten with sores, the tax collector Zacchaeus, and many more.

I am sad today, because if the person who has just become president-elect makes good on his campaign platform rhetoric, communities will be broken, relationships will be torn apart, rights will be stripped away, and many people at the margins of society may rightfully be scared to wake up in the morning.

I have no joy in writing this.

But I also know this, I believe in a God who shows up and is always present.

I believe in a God who calls us all through the waters of baptism to lives of service, and vocations for the sake of the world and our neighbor. Through the water and the word, we make promises:

  • to live among God’s faithful people,
  • to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

And it is because of this, that we cannot hide. It is because of this that we cannot back away in despair. Today is a sad day, perhaps even a terrifying one. But it is also a day where we are called to be the church just like every other day, but perhaps even more importantly now.

Many are legitimately afraid of being pushed aside on the other side of a wall. I will play no part in building any wall. And I invite you to join me.

Join me by building bridges and connections. Join me, by choosing kindness and love over fear and suspicion. Join me, in talking to the person you meet on the side of the street or inside the grocery store. Join me, in sharing how your faith compels you to be a servant leader to your neighbor.

Martin Luther famously wrote, “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to all.” The paradox Luther points to is that we are called and created to be free, but also servants to one another. This is leadership, and speaks to how we are created and called to be in relationship and community. So this is what I choose to do, but more importantly, feel called to do today, and all the days after.

We have work to do. It’s God’s work. The work of God’s kingdom breaking in. The work of showing love, peace, and justice for all people and all creation. The work of finding common ground and peace in the midst of great divisiveness.

I pray for President Elect Trump. I pray that God’s wisdom fills him, and that he turns out to be a good leader who works to build bridges and not walls.

No matter how the days and years ahead turn out, I promise to be one who builds bridges and works to promote the dignity of all people, my neighbors, and fellow Children of God. I promise to be one who resists any attacks on the vulnerable, marginalized, and the oppressed. (And I invite you to join that promise by signing this petition.) I promise to be an ally, even if that means putting  my own life and work at risk, because if one member of the Body of Christ is threatened, we are all threatened.

Please join me in this work. This is not something that can be done alone, but rather in community, with a God who calls us together, sustains us, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and reminds us that each and everyone is loved by God, simply because they are one of God’s children.

No matter who you voted for, I want to build bridges with you. I hope you want to build bridges with me, and I trust that with God, this is still possible. Thanks be to God for the hope we know through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and the peace which sustains us especially on days like this.

An important reminder today and every day.

Image Credit: Build Bridges Not Walls, Light Shines in the Darkness

David- Legacy, and Gratitude within and because of God’s Promises

Calvary Lutheran Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Calvary Lutheran Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska

This past weekend I was invited to preach at Calvary Lutheran Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Calvary is served by pastors Sheryl and Chris Kester Beyer. I preached on 2 Samuel 7:1-17, the focus text for the Narrative Lectionary for the day, and as part of the congregation’s stewardship focus and Consecration Sunday. If you prefer to listen, the congregation shares their sermons via podcast here, otherwise what follows below was the majority of the manuscript I had prepared.

Introduction, Greeting, and Thank You

Grace, peace, and good morning! It’s great to be with you this morning, and thank you so much to Pastor Sheryl and Pastor Chris for the warm invitation.

Again, I am Timothy Siburg, the new Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and I am excited to be here with all of you. I bring greetings from the entire synod staff, as well as from across the synod and the other 244 congregations.

To be able to preach on your consecration Sunday is a great joy and privilege, and I am grateful for that, and for your welcome, so thank you.

Rehashing the Story- What’s Going on Here?

Last week you heard about God’s answer to Hannah with the birth of Samuel, and songs of God’s love, care, and concern for those in need. Today we have moved onto the next book in the Bible, and after the point in which Saul has been king of Israel and is no longer king, and God has had Samuel anoint David, who is now the king of Israel. I love this passage, even though on the surface it might seem a little confusing, and we don’t often hear it in worship.[1]

In today’s story, we have the relatively new King David, and Nathan who is his priest and prophet whom God speaks to David through. When I have read this dialogue and story, and some stories like it in these historical books, I have tried to imagine a play on a stage.

So here’s what I think is going on…

King David has finished fighting, at least briefly, and is having a chance to rest and enjoy his house. He has put down his weapons and armor, his strategic brain for attack and defense planning, and is able to sit, smell the aroma of the cedar, and put his feet up.

David seems to feel a sense of guilt that while he enjoys his home, the ark of God rests in the tabernacle, a tent, while he enjoys the beauty of his cedar home. He’s thinking, how is this? This can’t be right, that the Lord has a measly tent, while he has a majestic home to call his own. With this thought, he considers building God a house or temple and tells Nathan of his plans and ideas. Of course, God has not asked David to do any of this.

That night, after David and Nathan have talked, God came to Nathan and told him what to tell David. Nathan has this vocation of being a prophet and priest, as God speaks through him. Through Nathan, God reminds David of what God has done. God recalls what God has already done, bringing back memories of prior battles and how David was led to victory, and of how God has been present with him.

Nathan sees and hears from God, about God’s plans for what God will still do with, through David, and in the future after David. I imagine that this came to Nathan in a long vision, dream, or conversation with God. Because there is a lot here.

Though it doesn’t overly clearly happen in this passage, we assume that Nathan does in fact pass along this message to David and that David hears and understands it. If you read on in the chapter after this reading, David offers prayers and thanks of gratitude to God for what God has done and promises to do, making it seem as if God’s message through Nathan has gotten to David, and David has understood what God is saying.

God’s Promises and Relationships

In the pulpit.
In the pulpit.

God says to David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom… Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” That’s quite the promise. And as we move through these books in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, you will notice that this marks a change. Here, God’s covenant with David is established for the first time.[2] That is, this is the promise, that not only is God with David and will be with David and his lineage, that God will establish the kingdom of Israel, of God’s people, through him.

If you are having visions of Advent and Christmas, that’s a good thing. Because this is a pivotal point of promise. And it’s not too much of a leap to remember that about seven centuries later, the Angel Gabriel will come to Mary and proclaim, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[3]

This little baby Jesus will be born in the city of David, and as later prophets after Nathan will prophesy and the Angel Gabriel reminds, he will be king, Messiah, and Savior. This baby, generations after David will be the one through whom the kingdom of God most clearly begins to break into the world… and well, you know the rest of the story.

Obviously this isn’t the first time that God makes promises, and certainly will not be the last. God promised Abraham a legacy of descendants and lineage as numerous as the stars, as you heard about last month. A couple of weeks ago, you dug into the story of Passover and the promises of God’s deliverance. Today’s promise is one of legacy, in line of God’s promise to be with God’s people. And in a few moments, we’ll recall God’s promises that God is “for you,” and with you through a simple meal around the table.

These promises though really get their meaning because of the relationships they are a part of. God is in relationship with David. Though he is the King, and that is how he is referred to by the narrator and Nathan, God doesn’t call David that. Rather, it’s a more personal relationship. God calls him, “my servant David,” and in the vision to Nathan, “my people Israel.”

God has claimed David and Israel as God’s own, just as God has claimed and continues to claim all of God’s children, and us, by name through the water and words of promise in baptism. God knows David, just as God knows us. And because of this, God’s promises are possible and they matter.

Gratitude for the Pure Gifts of God

This relationship with God is a gift. It’s a pure gift. And it’s something that David, though far from perfect, and you can read all about that if you read the whole book of 2nd Samuel, gives thanks for. God loves and forgives David just like God does for us.

And David wants to do something because of this love. David wants to build a temple, or a house for God. Maybe it’s out of pure gratitude. Or maybe it’s out of the hope that God might do more for David if David does something for God. If that’s the case, David does not yet know what gifts from God mean, and that they are just that, pure gifts we cannot earn or merit.

God sets the record straight about the temple, and of course, a temple will indeed be built for God after David. But that’s not for David to build. And ultimately, David remembers this and gives thanks in abundant gratitude.

What do you give thanks for? How do you give thanks? Two big stewardship questions, that are part of what it means to be a steward.

A Move Towards Legacy

One of the legacies in this congregation, are the beautiful quilts that are made and sent to Lutheran World Relief (as seen across the pews prior to worship).
One of the legacies in this congregation, are the beautiful quilts that are made and sent to Lutheran World Relief (as seen across the pews prior to worship).

Part of what I think David is doing though by wanting to build a house for God, is to leave a legacy. Stewardship, since that’s my area of focus, is often about how well we set up those who come after us to succeed, thrive, and grow. And David, with his gifts, faults, sins, and all, is able to do that for Solomon.

Like many parents, David wonders perhaps, what will the world look like for my children? What will it look like for Solomon? What kind of world do I want for my kids? What kind of faith and relationship with God do I want them to know?

I have been asked recently in visiting with congregations across the synod in my first full month here, how do I define stewardship. And I have said that for me, I believe “Stewardship is faith, hope, and grace in action.”

Stewardship is not a stagnant thing, but an active one. It’s one that is on-going and linked very much to our identity and relationship as children of God, and is a response to the pure gifts of God and the gospel.

How do we live? How do we grow? How are we changed by these gifts? How do we use or steward all that we have and all that we are- our time, passions, stories, gifts, resources, vocations, all that God has entrusted to us?

David has been entrusted with much. He has been made king, yet is hardly perfect. He has been entrusted in today’s story, with the knowledge of the promise of God’s continued love and presence, and that his kingdom will be made sure forever. Put another way, God has revealed to David through Nathan, that God’s own kingdom will come and break-in through David’s line.

That’s quite the gift and legacy. But what will that look like? How will David steward that knowledge, and leave a legacy for his son and all that may come after him?

I think for David, this means living a life of faithful gratitude. Of confessing and being forgiven, but also of constantly giving thanks to God for what God has done and will do, and for listening to God, to lead, serve, and be with the people and communities around David, as his joyful response for all that God has done and continues to do.

Jim’s Story

I imagine that this is something many of you ponder. I have heard a few stories of salt of the earth farmers and ranchers in this state, who want to do well with what they have, to help those who come after them, and to help all those around them, however they can. These stories remind me of a salt of the earth servant from my hometown in Washington State. In my hometown of Poulsbo in Western Washington we don’t have many farmers or ranchers, but we did at least while I was growing up have a smaller town feel not far from the metropolis of Seattle.

In meeting and greeting following worship, I heard from this woman that she has family in Poulsbo.
In meeting and greeting following worship, I heard from this woman that she has family in Poulsbo.

With the smaller town feel, came relationships and stories that have stayed with me. One in particular comes to mind. In my home congregation, we had a number of down to earth people, who had worked hard but also quietly given out of their abundance and great generosity. I am thinking about my friend Jim who passed away a couple of years ago.

Jim had grown up in the deep south, and served in the army. After his service, he ended up meeting his sweetheart Lorraine and together they ended up in the Seattle area. Jim would end up having a long career managing a local grocery store, and through that, got to know so many people in the town, and the town them.

I didn’t know Jim when he was in the grocery business, only after he had long retired. But I had heard stories of how he had created jobs for people who needed them, including my uncles while in school. That he found a way to always create more opportunity, and with what he had, to share it widely and quietly in the community. He was a steward, and in his own way, a philanthropist because he was grateful and wanted to give others a chance to live abundantly as he had.

Jim and his wife Lorraine also later helped my parents, two young adults at the time wanting to start a family, to be able to afford a down payment on their home. They didn’t need to do this, but offered it because they saw in my parents, two people starting out whom they could help without strings attached. This story of generosity was told over and over again at Jim’s funeral.

For me, and for my wife Allison, we experienced this generosity first hand through the way Jim helped support us in our seminary costs, and even generously as we started out as newlyweds. Jim didn’t need to do any of this. But he felt called to do it, and that he had the capacity to help in this way.

Though Jim was hard of hearing late in life, no one had a larger smile on their face. I distinctly remember stopping by his home the last time to visit with him, and finding him in his backyard watering his plants that he loved in his garden. Such a big smile came across his face as Allison and I approached. He loved. He cared. He lived. He served. I asked him, Jim, how are you doing? He said, “I’m doing great. I’m grateful. I’ve lived a full life, and I know that God has called me, just like God has called you.”

I am sure you all know of people like Jim in your life. Perhaps one of you is like Jim to others you know?

A Promise and Gift for Us

I am thinking of Jim today, because he was a servant. A child of God. Not perfect, but loved and one who loved. He, like David, lived faithfully and was grateful. And he wanted to give thanks to God, and to steward what he had been entrusted with as a way of leaving a legacy. He also claimed God’s promise of new life.

I wonder today, what are the stories you could tell? What are you grateful for? How might your unique passions, stories, gifts, and vocations lead you forward, and have led you to today?

I am thankful for each of every one of you. For your faithfulness, for your welcome and hospitality, and for the way each and every one of you responds to the gifts and promises of God in your beautiful and unique life stories that are part of God’s on-going story in the world. As today is Consecration Sunday, may you feel assured of your calling, grateful for what God has done and continues to do, and feel a renewed sense of energy and passion to explore what God might be doing, and to see how you are a part of God’s work of kingdom building and love. Amen.


Resources and Citations:

[1] Narrative Lectionary 2016-2017, Readings for Year 3 (Luke).

[2] Sara Koenig, “Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-17,”

[3] Luke 1:30-33, NRSV.

Choir of the West- 90th Reunion

For three years while in college at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), I enjoyed one of the greatest gifts of this world- being a part of a fantastic choir and family of friends, musicians, and servants. This past weekend, members of the choir from its 90 years gathered for a reunion and beautiful concert. I unfortunately was unable to attend in person because of recently moving and life transitions, but I am already planning to be there for the 100th reunion in 10 years.

I am grateful today because the concert has been made available for all to see and hear. And now, without further adieu, here is the most beautiful thing you will see and hear this month:

Note: It gives me great joy to see my Mom in her era of the choir on stage, my brother in his/mine, friends, colleagues, and pastors from different generations and eras gathered together. Thank you all for sharing your gifts of music, for PLU and the legacy of the Choir of the West, and the great leadership of its many directors, but especially mine, Dr. Richard Nance. 

New Engine, New Tires & Luke – Faith in the face of debt

The following is a portion of a blogpost that I wrote that appears on the COMPASS blog. Please enjoy this sample, and then read the whole post over at COMPASS

New car engine
New car engine

Student loans? Broken down cars? How am I ever going to pay this off? Those are some pretty normal reactions to debt, and ones we have heard a little bit about this past month on the COMPASS blog.

What strikes me though as I think about these questions, is a reminder of the way God is present even in the face of our stress, uncertainty, doubt, and fear, all of which can surface when thinking about money and debt.

The Gospel of Luke is full of stories and parables from Jesus about money, wealth, poverty, and debt. For example, there is the confusing parable of the Dishonest Manager found in Luke 16:1-13.

In this story we hear of a manager who has been called to account for his business. In the face of what sounds like the manager’s certain firing, he goes about reducing the amount owed by different individuals in the community to the manager’s master. This is something that certainly could be praised, in that those oppressed and marginalized by debt were getting some of it forgiven. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that.

It’s not as likely in our daily life that someone will come along and just because they can, reduce the amount of debt we owe. If you are assuming that is going to happen for you, I wish you well, but I wouldn’t advise you to plan and budget that way.

Debt is a reality of life. It doesn’t need to be a crushing one, however. It only has power, like money, when we give it that power. We can certainly live in fear of it, if we are not careful. And unexpected and big expenses can help lead us to be in fear.

A couple of days ago, my wife and I faced one of the downsides of moving across country from Washington to Nebraska…

For the rest of the story, please continue reading here


Save the Dates!

You're Invited!
You’re Invited!

Being able to share this wonderful news fills my heart with joy! My wife Allison Siburg has been called to serve alongside the people of Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska as their pastor. It’s a wonderful congregation full of great people with beautiful stories that I am excited to hear and see.

Allison’s and my life together has been a beautiful journey from PLU and focuses on vocation; to congregational work; to marriage and moving across country for seminary in Minnesota; back to Washington for internship; and now to Nebraska. It has been and continues to be a wonderful ride in our life together as a ministry couple.

To all who have been a part of this journey from our very formation- our family, friends, teachers, and our home congregations of Poulsbo First Lutheran Church, Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA; our professors and communities at Pacific Lutheran University, Drucker School of Management, and Luther Seminary; and from the other faith communities whom we have joined in service in different capacities since being married- Cross of Hope Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN, Woodlake Lutheran Church, and Messiah Lutheran Church and Preschool; colleagues and friends in the Southwestern Washington Synod, Northwest Washington Synod, Minneapolis Area Synod, Saint Paul Area Synod, and now Nebraska Synod; thank you for being so supportive and wonderful partners in ministry.

I am excited to be able to worship regularly at Salem Lutheran Church of Fontanelle, and to serve as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, ELCA.

Mark your calendars for the first weekend of November.

Save the Dates!

Allison’s ordination will be at 1pm on Saturday November 5th at St. Andrew’s Lutheran in Bellevue, Washington. Friend and professor from Luther Seminary, Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis will preach, and Bishop Brian Maas from the Nebraska Synod will preside.

My consecration as a Deacon will be on the same weekend, and be held at First Lutheran in Poulsbo, Washington the next day, Sunday November 6th at 11am. Friend and professor from Luther Seminary, Dr. Terri Elton will preach, and Bishop Brian Maas from the Nebraska Synod will preside and be assisted by Bishop Rick Jaech from the Southwestern Washington Synod.

Rostered leaders and ministers of the church are invited to vest, and please plan on a group photo after each of the worship services.

What does this mean?: Those who are pastors, deacons, associates in ministry, deaconesses, etc., are invited to robe and depending on call and office, invited to wear a stole with the color of the day. For Allison’s ordination, the color will be red. As my consecration will occur on All Saints, the liturgical color for the day will be white, but if you are traveling from out of town, wearing red so to celebrate and so you don’t have to haul two different stoles would be just fine.

If you aren’t a rostered leader, I highly encourage you to wear red to Allison’s ordination, and some kind of white or red for my consecration.

All are invited and welcome! So if you are free the first weekend in November, we would love to celebrate and worship with you. Thank you all for your blessings of friendship, mentorship, community, and for being a part of our lives!

This Week’s Links

Here are some links to things that I have found thought-provoking this week.

Tuesday means that it is time to share some links to things that I have found thought provoking. To help navigate the different themes, I have grouped them by the following categories: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Stewardship; Vocation; and Miscellaneous. I hope you enjoy these links!

Church and Ministry Thought & Practice

For those of you preparing to preach this coming weekend or designing worship using the revised common lectionary, check out friend and professor Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis‘ reflection, “Just Justice,” as well as this “Commentary on Luke 18:1-8” by Rev. Dr. David Lose, and this “Commentary on Genesis 32:22-31,” by friend and professor Rev. Dr. Terence Fretheim. For some other food for thought give the “Sermon Brainwave” podcast a listen to with friends and professors Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner.

If you are preaching or designing worship following the narrative lectionary, spend some time with this “Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10,” by Professor Sara Koenig.

Friend Hannah Heinzekehr shared “Five Observations from Visiting Congregations.” Observations Hannah makes regarding those congregations that have welcomed guests well, include: information about worship is easily accessible; having helpful greeters/ushers; having optional introductions; providing activities for kids; and coffee and conversation are readily available. How might these observations connect with your experience and/or ministry context?

Friend and colleague Lisa Kramme shared an invitation to join an upcoming Practice Discipleship Webinar focused on “Wondering in Prayer.” It’s scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 13th from 1-2pm CDT. Sign up for the hour session, not just because it’s free, but because it would be a great resource for your ministry.

For those of you in the Southwestern Washington Synod of the ELCA, be sure and plan on attending the next “Bishop’s Convocation for Rostered Leaders” in January as Bishop Guy Erwin from the Southwest California Synod will be the speaker.

If you, like me, are in Nebraska, be sure and join me at the upcoming Discipleship Days in the Nebraska Synod. This week we’ll be gathering in Wakefield and Scribner. After a break for the Fall Theological Conference next week, then we’ll be out west in Scottsbluff and North Platte, and then in early November in Auburn and Omaha.

Friend, pastor, and blogger Diane Roth shared some ministry reflections on “Why Read the Bible,” and “Effective Ministry.”

Cross-Sector Collaboration

Friend Rozella White wrote a great reflection for LEAD about “A Move from Head to Heart: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence.” This is a good read for anyone in leadership, and given the framework of the LEAD blog, it is particularly useful for those in leadership in church and ministry settings.

Seattle: An Architecture of Innovation via Julian Stodd
Seattle: An Architecture of Innovation via Julian Stodd

Friend Ben Tully shared this great “Open Letter to President Obama” last month advocating for experiences abroad- studying and experiencing different contexts and cultures.

Social leadership theorist Julian Stodd shared some “Words about Learning: Generosity,” as well as a post that caught my eye because it is in part about Seattle, “Seattle: An Architecture of Innovation.” Check out both posts and see what you think.

Leadership Thought & Practice

Jon Mertz at Thin Difference shared some thoughts and ideas about “A New Era of Corporate Social Leader Activism.”

Jeremy Chandler shared, “5 Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned from 5 Jobs in 5 Years.”

Steve Keating wrote and explained that, “Change is Not Optional.” I appreciate Steve’s points particularly that, “organizations can’t innovate, only people can.” And, “if you’re a leader and you’re not providing your people an environment where taking thoughtful risk is encouraged and occasional failure is risk free then your people will fight the change needed to succeed tomorrow.”

Tanveer Naseer pondered an important question, “Is Your Leadership Based on Influence or Authority?

Dan Rockwell wrote about, “How to Turn Cautious Teammates into Visionary Thinkers.” Dan also shared what he sees as, “One Essential to Becoming a Better Leader,” and a list of “7 Do’s and Don’ts for getting the most from the Smartest People in the Building.”


Friend and pastor Brian Mundt shared this reflection by Karl Vaters about, “Why Millennials Won’t Build the Kind of Churches their Parents Built.”

Neighbor Love

"Loved Into Being," by Vonda Drees.
“Loved Into Being,” by Vonda Drees.

Friend, blogger, and artist Vonda Drees shared a number of beautiful posts over the past few weeks. These have included: “I Wonder…“; “creative per mission“; “wild grace“; and “loved into being.” Check out these beautiful posts and all the rest that appear daily on Vonda’s blog.

Over at the LEAD blog, friend and pastor David Hansen asked, “Who is My Neighbor?

Pastor and blogger Clint Schnekloth wrote and shared, “So you’re resettling refugees!? How can I help?

Friend, pastor, and blogger Aaron Fuller shared a recent “Homily on the Importance of Remembering,” based on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Friend, pastor, and blogger Chris Michaelis shared a recent sermon written with Hurricane Matthew in mind in, “Hurricane Winds of Change.”

In light of recent events, particularly the release of a video of presidential candidate Donald Trump and his comments that detail sexual assault, pastor and blogger Meta Herrick Carlson shared some important reflections about rape culture in thinking about “bodies.”

Pastor and blogger Nancy Kraft shared some timely reflections about, “Presidential candidates, politics, preaching, and Jesus.”

Friend Adam Copeland shared some good thoughts about the meaning and experience of “Condolence in a Digital Age.”


A week and a half ago I preached a stewardship sermon based on Luke 17:5-10, “Faith, Abundant Life, and Living Simply.”

The COMPASS blog spent September digging into reflections on debt and debt management. As part of that series, I wrote and shared thoughts about a, “New Engine, New Tires & Luke – Faith in the face of debt.”


October’s theme on the COMPASS blog is “Enough.” With that in mind, friend Marcia Shetler wrote, “Enough Already!

Marcia also shared, “Finding Your Enough: Some Practical Suggestions.” The suggestions she highlights include: reduce your consumption by setting tangible goals; use something up before buying something new; plan low-cost entertainment that enriches; and more.

Friend and pastor Todd Buegler shared a recent stewardship sermon on, “Our Need to Give.”


Friend, mentor, and professor Dr. Terri Elton pondered, “What does it take to bless future generations?” Good question. Check out her thoughts about vocation, life, leadership, and generations in, “Passing on Blessings.”

Friend and blogger Julia Nelson shared some more vocational thoughts in her weekly installment of “Tuesday Tea Time.”


In exciting news, the PLU Christmas Concert from last year, “A Christmas Invitation,” is now available to be purchased on DVD. Check it out, and be sure and order your copy!


That concludes this edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them. As always, if you have particular questions or topics for me to think about on the blog, please share them. Also, if there are things you would like to see included in the links, please let me know that too. Thank you for reading and being a part of the conversation! Blessings on the rest of your week. -TS

Image Credits:  The Links; Seattle: An Architecture of Innovation; “Loved into Being“; and “Enough.”