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). https://www.workingpreacher.org/content/narrative_lectionary_luke_2016-2017.pdf

[2] Sara Koenig, “Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-17,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2986.

[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.”

Faith, Abundant Life, and Living Simply

Welcome sign at Messiah Lutheran
Welcome sign at Messiah Lutheran

The following is the manuscript of the sermon I shared Sunday October 2nd at Messiah Lutheran in Aurora, Nebraska.  The sermon was grounded in the appointed gospel lesson from the revised common lectionary, Luke 17:5-10; and included some reflection on the congregation’s stewardship theme, “Live Simply” based on 1 Timothy 6:18-19; as well as words of welcome and introduction in my role as Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod. 

“We are worthless slaves, we have done only what we ought to have done!” How’s that for an uplifting end to the gospel passage for today? We’ll come back to this in a minute, but maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds?

Well, grace and peace be with you all this day. It’s my privilege and great joy to be with you, and I bring greetings on behalf of the Nebraska Synod staff and the other 244 congregations of the Nebraska Synod. Thank you for the invitation to be with you today, and to join with you as part of your stewardship theme of “Live Simply.” By way of introduction, I’m Timothy Siburg, the new Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and this is actually my first official congregational visit as a member of the synod staff. So thank you for the warm invitation and welcome.

Gospel Passage

Turning to today’s gospel. There’s a lot packed into these few verses, as Jesus is talking to the disciples and sharing about the complexity and challenges of faith. The disciples have just spent a good deal of time listening to Jesus talk to them, and to the Pharisees about all of the complexities and amount of sheer work and expectations involved in being a disciple. It’s safe to say the disciples are feeling overwhelmed.

Together, as a group, the disciples tell Jesus, “Increase our faith!” It’s an honest and understandable request. This isn’t just you or me, in prayer trying to ask God for a little help. This is crying out as a community of believers saying, how on earth are we supposed to feed the hungry, forgive at all times, hold no offense, take up Christ’s cross, and go without bags or cars full of stuff out into the world, sent to serve?[1]

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that the voices in the back of your head say, “you aren’t enough! You aren’t good enough! You can’t really do this…” Or, “what have you gotten yourself into? Are you crazy?” Or, “what is faith? What is our faith good for? Does our faith get us anywhere? Is our faith worth anything?” Why does this matter?[2]

Let me let you in on a little secret. This isn’t just a question that the disciples have and are wrestling with.

This isn’t just a question of one or two of us in the pews today. This is one that pastors, teachers, and each and every one of us, if we are honest wrestles with and wonders about from time to time, if not daily.

Because of this, maybe we can understand why the disciples cry out to Jesus, in order to make this possible, “Increase our faith.” But when we get to that point, we really aren’t trusting the Lord like the Psalmist calls us to do.[3] Besides, thinking like this makes faith into something we can count, a resource that is scarce that might run out, that it is something that can be measured.

When Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed, maybe it’s not so much about the size, which is so small, it’s just barely a speck? Maybe it has more to do with a faith grounded in a certainty or promise. A mustard seed, like most plants, has one goal, to grow and produce. Maybe Jesus, by drawing us to think about the small speck of a mustard seed, is admiring the fact that it will grow, trusting that it will do what it is supposed to do. Likewise, maybe we are called to trust in the final outcomes of discipleship, and the coming and in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, where the promises of God are revealed?[4]

This certainly seems like a lot to ask. But maybe, maybe it’s not so much?

Live Simply Theme

The centering passage for your stewardship theme from 1 Timothy is helpful given today’s gospel lesson’s complexity. It reads, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

Like the apostles, we are called to do good, to serve, share, and be generous. This isn’t so that we can have eternal life. That’s a gift from God we cannot earn. But doing these things I believe leads to living an abundant life, and that’s what is at the heart and hope of stewardship.

Stewardship has been described by some as “everything you do after saying or confessing, I believe.” I prefer more thinking like this- Stewardship is faith, hope, and grace in action.

Stewardship is faith, hope, and grace in action.

Stewardship is what we do in our joyful response to the pure gifts of God. How do we use and allocate our time? How do we steward our strengths, passions, talents, and gifts? How do we tell and share our stories- beautiful and unique stories which are woven into God’s on-going story? How do we steward, allocate, and share our finances?

Our answers to these questions describe who we are each as individual stewards. And when answered, they help point to what it might mean to live simply and abundantly.

Abundant Life

The promises of God- the hope of the resurrection and abundant life are pure gifts. Faith is also a gift.

What we do in response to these gifts helps us discern if we are in fact living abundantly? Are we doing good, serving, sharing, and being generous? And if so, are we doing that because our lives have been changed and transformed by the pure gift of the Gospel? Is the way we live our life, as a baptized child of God showing faith in action? Or are we going through the motions of life? Do we live in hope? Do we live in the knowledge of grace by extending grace to others?

Any one of these questions could be the center of a sermon, book, or perhaps even career. But, these are the types of questions that I am wondering as the synod’s stewardship director. And I wonder if you are pondering them too?

Response- Grace, and Gifts

Preaching at Messiah Lutheran

The gospel today is an odd one, part of a ten verse section where Jesus is talking to the disciples about faith. We are compared to slaves, painting the picture of faith and obedience, ending with the declaration, “We are worthless slaves, we have done only what we ought to have done!”

This is a humbling response. Perhaps it’s a humiliating one? It’s not much of a stretch from this image, to Martin Luther’s thoughts that we are all “stinking maggot fodder.” Where could there be good news in this?

The good news is in the reality that it’s not up to us. We live because we are supposed to live. We give and serve because we are called to care about those in need and our communities, as we are called into communities, and created to be in relationships with one another. Our faith is not up to us, much like growing is not up to the mustard seed.

Faith is a gift which we can’t really do anything about. Though it might be nice to seemingly have more of it, faith doesn’t work that way precisely because it is a gift from Jesus, and not anything we do ourselves.

When we recognize this, we are freed up. We are freed up from feelings of guilt and burden. We are freed from the fears of not being enough, or not having done enough, or purely having enough. We are freed up from thinking that it’s all up to us, and instead, we get to live and serve in joy of the good news that it’s all God’s, and we are called to be participants with God. To be co-creators and doers of God’s work and creation. To be stewards of all that we are and all that we have.

An Admission about the Challenges that come along with this

I have to admit that this isn’t as easy as it always seems. As you are the first congregation that I have visited and as I am in the early days of this new ministry as the synod’s director for stewardship, I have to admit something. There are days when I am afraid I am not enough. This synod is so great, and here I am, a new guy originally from the Pacific Northwest being called to be with all of you and serve alongside you. God has done and continues to do great things through you, and I am in awe of that.

My wife Allison, who is soon to be ordained, and I officially moved to Nebraska about 3 weeks ago, and have been more or less living out of a suitcase and what fits in our car. Our things and furniture are in the back of a moving trailer which we last saw when we packed it in early August. We’re hoping we’ll see it again sometime in the next month, but there are days too, when I wonder about that and worry. But those are the days when I most clearly need to remember, that we have what we need.

It’s an opportunity to live simply and abundantly now and to remember that with God, we are enough and we have enough. But I admit, as I preach this morning and mean these words, please know, I also know how hard it can be to do all of this.

Life with Questions, Abundant Life

To live simply means to live abundantly. To deeply believe that the life that really is life, Jesus Christ who was born, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended is life for you and for me. That this gift we know most clearly in and through the cross, is just that, a gift we can never earn. And you know what, thanks be to God for that.

The disciples were overwhelmed because they thought the work would be impossible. When we think it’s all up to us, it really is impossible. But thankfully, it’s not.

Faith is trusting that this is true. And stewardship then is a life of living an active faith- one where we live in joy, but also openly share our questions, wonderings, fears, joys, and stories. Where we can come together as a community in hope.  And where we forgive each other without ceasing just as God in Christ has forgiven us and through grace continues to forgive.

Faith, hope, and grace in action. That’s stewardship. Living simply starts with a recognition that it’s not up to us. Freed from that, what will we do next?

Greeting the congregation after worship with Pastor Sarah Ruch

How will we do what we are called to do? What we ought to do? And how are we being led into abundant life today through the flowing waters of baptism, and the promises we share in the meal around this table? What have you done? What are you doing? And what will you do?

These are beautiful questions, and the stories that come from them, are the type of stories that show Gods great and beautiful diverse work in action- a work only possible through all of the completely unique stewards that I see in front of me, and across this whole synod.

It doesn’t matter what size our faith is. It matters that we get out of our own way, let God be God, and to live faithfully, fully, abundantly, and joyfully in the knowledge of the risen Lord who calls us all to faith and life in him.  Amen.

References and Credits:

[1] David Lose, “Every Day Acts of Faith,” 26 September 2016, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/09/pentecost-20-c-every-day-acts-of-faith/.

[2] Karoline Lewis, “The Increments of Faith,” 25 September 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4725.

[3] Psalm 37, as referenced by Karoline Lewis.

[4] Justo Gonzalez, Luke, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2010), 201.