Can you Believe what you just Saw?

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On Sunday March 26, 2017, I had the privilege of being invited to preach and lead worship at Salem Lutheran Church in Superior, Nebraska. This congregation is part of the Heartland Shared Ministries, and in the afternoon I led a stewardship seminar for the combined partner congregations and the surrounding cluster. It was a joy to be with the congregation, and I look forward to their continued exploration about what it means to be a “shared” ministry.

The following is the manuscript I mainly preached from. It is based on the revised common lectionary readings appointed for the fourth Sunday in Lent, and is primarily based on John 9:1-41, and Psalm 23

Grace, peace, and blessings from our God who opens eyes, hearts, and minds to see, to know, and to love, Amen.

20170326_090220It is a great joy to be with you today. Thank you to Pastor Kathryn for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers that together with you, are the Nebraska Synod. I also bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Megan Morrow, and the entire synod staff.  I am excited to be with you for worship today and the workshop this afternoon. I am also excited to share some thoughts about our shared ministry together in the church, some ideas about stewardship, and to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to.

Can You Believe What You Just Saw?
In terms of wondering… have you ever had one of those days where you couldn’t possibly believe what you were experiencing? Or what you were seeing?

I suspect that is what was happening with the people in today’s gospel story. In today’s story, a man who was born blind, through following Jesus’ instructions, is given sight. The people in the community can hardly believe it. Those who see it and try to make sense of it, are mad. How could this be possible? What’s going on here? “Clearly this is wrong,” the Pharisees or those in authority think, because it is not how things are supposed to go.

But as the blind man, who Jesus extends the call to be a disciple and follower of the way to, responds about Jesus and his acts on his (and perhaps our behalf), “I do not know whether he (Jesus) is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”[1]

The man who is given literal sight in this story, provides “an opportunity for God to act,” or for God to do what God does.[2] The gospel of John is filled with “I am” statements, describing who exactly this God in Christ is. Today we again hear Jesus proclaim, “I am.” “I am the light of the world.”[3] And as soon as he proclaims this, Jesus spits and makes mud. Seems kind of opposite of what we might first envision the light of the world looking like. But then we remember who this God of ours is. Someone who has come near, become one of us, has lived, died, and was resurrected for us, so that we might have life.

Still, I have to ask again, have you ever had one of those days where you couldn’t possibly believe what you were experiencing? Or what you were seeing?

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Look who I found? My boss, Bishop Brian Maas’ picture and story, on the shelves at Salem Lutheran in Superior.

About a year ago, I had such a couple of days. No one literally gained sight, but my heart and mind were definitely moved in ways I might not have been ready for or had expected.

My wife Allison and I are natives of the Pacific Northwest, and after getting married about seven years ago we moved to Minnesota for seminary and work. After about five years, Allison was sent out on the last part of her preparation for ordination, internship. We thought, hey this is awesome, we’re going back home to the Northwest. Just about 7 months later after moving back across country from Minnesota to Washington state, my wife Allison and I flew out to Nebraska for a quick trip. You see, it was about at this time where after receiving an email from a person I had never heard of, inviting me to have a conversation with a bishop I had never met, I heard about what God is up to here in Nebraska.

I heard an invitation to follow a calling to come and see, and to share about this synod- a synod full of generosity, love, and partnership for the sake of the world; one you’re each a part of here in Superior with the Heartland Shared Ministries and your mission share contributions which make the work of training and raising up new leaders and pastor, of supporting transforming and renewing ministries, and the many serving arm organizations that we are all partners with possible. There’s much more to this story, and I’ll pick it up in a bit.

Abundant Life through God in Christ
Today’s gospel story is part of a longer section which goes through all of John chapter 9, and much of chapter 10.[4] The man who gains his sight through Christ’s action, becomes one of the sheep Jesus describes in the following chapter who knows the shepherd’s voice and is one of the many of God’s children whom Christ has come so that, “we might have eternal life, and have it abundantly.”[5] [6]

Abundance, that’s a stewardship thing. But what might it mean?

The man today is made new through God’s action, much like we are made new through the water and the word in baptism. God shows up and acts, time and time again, for us. We don’t deserve this action, and cannot earn it, but God shows up because God cares, loves, and promises to be with us.

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One of the ways this congregation responds to the good news, is by contributing to their local food pantry.

The question then is, how do we live into this reality? How do we respond to this calling? How do we live joyfully because of all that God has done and continues to do for us?

God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants us to live fully and abundantly, which starts with recognizing we have a God who loves us, is with us, and wants to be with us. These are gifts- gifts of life, gifts of faith, and gifts of purpose.

Stewardship as Faith, Hope, and Grace in Action
Stewardship then is how we live in light of these promises, gifts, good news, and saving acts for us. This living is an active thing. Which is why stewardship is something broad, on-going, and part of our very identity as Children of God, and each of our relationships with our neighbors, loved ones, strangers, and even God’s own self. Stewardship, put another way, is faith, hope, and grace in action.

Jesus today was entrusted with the ability to give sight to a blind man. Jesus didn’t hoard that opportunity, rather, Jesus used it, even on a Sabbath day, so that God’s work could be done through him. Faith, hope, and grace, in action.

That was Jesus’ work in this story, and even though we might not be able to give literal sight to a blind person every day, we are entrusted with passions, stories, resources, money, talents, ideas, questions, vocations, and relationships through which God works through us to build up God’s kingdom. Through us, all that we have and all that we are, that which God has entrusted to our care to manage or steward, God does God’s work.

When you think about it that way, it’s awe-inspiring and perhaps overwhelming. How we live our lives through our vocations, choices of things we do and don’t do, show how we have been impacted by all that God has done for us. If we are so caught up in joy for these gifts of God that we cannot earn, but are perfectly free gifts, it stands to reason, that we’ll be so moved that we will not be able to hoard these gifts and keep them to ourselves, but want to share them extravagantly and radically like God.

Jesus, the Light of the World
At the same time, we recognize that life is not always easy. God wants to be with us, in the good, the bad, and the ugly of life. God wants to have the deepest of relationships, and we remember that with the psalmist today. “The Lord is my shepherd.”[7] Amen. But what impact does that have on us? “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” “I” or “we,” “shall not want.” Our needs are met in God- a God who restores, who leads us, who is with us, comforting and anointing, and we shall dwell with this God. A God, who also showed up to give sight to a blind man, proclaiming, “I am the light of the world.”

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The beautiful stained glass cross at Salem Lutheran in Superior, makes me think about Jesus, the “Light of the World.”

This isn’t a light of the world that our worldly ways might anticipate. This isn’t some grandiose politician riding in on a chariot or a Boeing 747, this is a light of the world that spits and creates mud with God’s own hands. This is a light of the world who gets on his knees and washes other’s feet. This light of the world is a light that we all remember in baptism. As “Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.”[8] Or, the command to live a life of faith, hope, and grace in action, to “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”[9]

In today’s story, God bestows “grace upon grace.”[10] God doesn’t act as we might expect. God doesn’t prioritize who God will use or call as we might assign tasks to the smartest, strongest, or loudest. No, God’s grace is not something that can be counted and assessed. God’s “grace upon grace,” is how God’s economy works, an economy and stewardship that is different than our human created ones. [11]

The man today who is given sight, listened to God and did as God called. The man confessed belief, and worshiped. The man did, what I hope we all do, he worshiped and gave thanks because God had shown up. God has again given life, life for us, a life so extravagant and abundant we could not even imagine.

This life is made possible of course through God’s saving acts of the cross, we remember on our Lenten journey.

Now What? The Rest of the Story
But this life is not always an easy one. I promised you more of my story, so here you go.

When my wife and I came to Nebraska for that couple of days last year, from the Pacific Northwest, we sensed, we saw, and we were amazed. We sensed God at work. But we knew that also meant change. We cried some, knowing we would be moving once again from our extended families and loved ones in the Northwest. But, as we saw, heard and experienced with our own eyes, hearts, and minds in Nebraska, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. We were being called here. And so, here we are. I as a deacon, serving as Director for Stewardship for the Nebraska Synod, sharing all about stories of ministry in action from across this wonderful state; and Allison as a first call pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. To be a part of the ministry of 245 congregations, 13 serving arms, and telling the story of God at work is a life of pure joy for me.

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A fitting reminder on the walls at Salem in Superior.

This life that we all lead as disciples, stewards of God’s love and mysteries, and followers of Christ, is a life of calling, purpose, and vocation. When we are found, like the man in today’s story, we would also then be wise to expect to be sent out. The disciples were all sent out, and so are we, each week at the end of worship to our various daily lives, to live out the Good News and share that through God, “all have life and all have it abundantly.”[12] We do this through our words and actions. We do this by extending God’s invitation to all, to invite the world to come and see what God has done and God continues to do. [13]

All of this is a gift. It’s good news. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way, to allow God to work through us, to use us, and for us to go about the work of living lives of faith, and stewarding all that God has given and continues to give. I wonder if that’s really what the problem was for the Pharisees? Jesus broke the rules of their expectations, so that couldn’t possibly be okay. It’s a good reminder, that God isn’t beholden to our human understanding, and self-created rules for good order. When we are, stubborn and hold to an “our way or the highway” mentality, perhaps we refuse to believe, and by doing so, we’re blind to our own sin?[14]

Even so, God still shows up to do the work to open our eyes, hearts, and minds. God calls us to see all that God has done, to feel and share the Light of the World with our sisters and brothers, and to know so deeply that God loves us, is with us, and is for us. Amen.

—————————————————————-

Notes, References, and Citations:

[1] John 9:25, NRSV.

[2] Obrey M. Hendricks, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Michael D. Coogan, ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 164 New Testament.

[3] John 9:5, NRSV.

[4] Karoline M. Lewis, Lutheran Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), page 1770.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John 10:10, NRSV.

[7] Psalm 23:1, NRSV.

[8] “Holy Baptism,” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 231.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found,” 19 March 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4843.

[11] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found,” 19 March 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4843.

[12] John 10:10, NRSV.

[13] Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found.”

[14] Inspired by Obrey Hendricks, 165 New Testament.

2 comments on “Can you Believe what you just Saw?”

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