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.
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?
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?
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. 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?
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.
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
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?
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:
 David Lose, “Every Day Acts of Faith,” 26 September 2016, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/09/pentecost-20-c-every-day-acts-of-faith/.
 Karoline Lewis, “The Increments of Faith,” 25 September 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4725.
 Psalm 37, as referenced by Karoline Lewis.
 Justo Gonzalez, Luke, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2010), 201.