This Week’s Links used to be a staple on the blog, and it is my hope that they return to their usual Tuesday rhythm as we enter the summer. They are slimmer, but hopefully just as helpful. To make sense of some of the things that I have read and found interesting, I have grouped them in the following categories: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Stewardship; and Vocation. I hope you enjoy this edition of the links.
In exciting ministry news from Nebraska, Tammy Real-McKeighan wrote about the creation of the “Faith Ambassadors Parish,” a merging of five congregations choosing to go into collaboration to create a new parish just north of where I live.
Friend and professor Rev. Dr. Samuel Torvend has authored a new article that was recently published in the Oxford Religion Encyclopedia, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, “Martin Luther’s Teaching and Practice of Charity and Social Ethics.” The article is available currently for free download, so be sure and check it out.
Friend and pastor Melissa Melnick shared an update and reflection in “Sending,” and honestly reflected about and in the midst of her grieving the loss of her son Chris. (Melissa, we continue to hold you and your family in prayer and love in Nebraska.)
Stewardship Is the idea “more than enough” helpful for thinking about or reframing abundance? Friend Adam Copeland shared this post by Alex Benson. In thinking about this question, I greatly appreciate Pastor Bonnie Wilcox’s response to my initial question on Twitter, when she wrote last week that, “It speaks to the middle class at best. Not to those on limited incomes, esp. seniors.” What do you think?
Vocation I have been serving as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod for just over a year now. Looking back at the first year, and to the year ahead, I shared some reflections about how I feel “Beyond Grateful.”
That will conclude this week’s edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them, and that you are enjoying the new rhythm to the blog. If you have ideas for me, please let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading and being part of the conversation, and blessings on your week! -TS
Hello friends, and welcome to my blog if it’s the first time you have visited, or if this is the return to it after awhile. Today marks a new rhythm for this space. Beginning today, and hopefully on every Monday that follows, I will share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching this week based on the appointed readings by the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary. (Today, I offer a bonus including a few stewardship thoughts on Ascension too, in case you are observing it in your context.)
In this in between time, between the Ascension and Pentecost, it is a good Sunday to focus on prayer and how through it, we dwell more closely with God and with each other. This week, I am particularly struck by the Acts reading, where in verse 8 we hear, “and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is a call and foreshadowing of the sending that will come with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is also an opportunity to think and talk about how we have such a beautiful story to tell- the story of God in Christ, the story of God at work in the world for us and through us. How do we tell these stories? How do we share these stories?
We’re in this together, and we hope to be in this in the unity of the Spirit (like alluded to in John 17:11). What this call, sending, and story looks like will be different everywhere, but this work may be like what the Psalmist describes in Psalm 68:9-10, where we hear about the ideas of the restoration that comes through God, the abundance that we know through God, and the provision that is made for those in need which we are entrusted with to share with others. I wonder what this might look, sound, taste, and feel like for you and your context?
Sunday May 28, 2017: Narrative Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday of Easter Narrative Theme for the Day: “One in Christ”
Focus Passage: Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29
Gospel Verse: Luke 1:68-79
On this Sunday before Pentecost as we continue our journey through Galatians, we hear some of the more famous verses from Paul. We are reminded of our identity as Children of God, and heirs of the promise. As Paul writes, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Gal 3:26). This is a gift, a grounding gift which points to our relationship with God and one another. And then Paul, gets to the heart of what the community of Children of God looks like, or what we hope the Kingdom of God might look like, where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28-29).
Perhaps this is a good day to remind your context about the promises of God, but also that God is not done working and promising. God continues to fulfill God’s promises, in us and for us. It’s a helpful pairing to have the “Benedictus” be the gospel companion this week from Luke. The hymn from Zechariah is a gorgeous text of joy, and a reminder of the promises of God made manifest in Christ.
Of all the beautiful lines in this gospel passage, this week I think I am drawn to the portion which is included in the “Matins” or “Morning Prayer” liturgy. Zechariah declares, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). We are one in Christ, guided in the way of peace for the sake of God’s world. (Perhaps an extra fitting passage for those mourning or grieving those who have served this Memorial Day weekend.)
In thinking about stewardship, it’s always a good week to think about God’s promises, and how because of them, and God’s gifts- all that God has done and continues to do, we live and serve in joy.
It’s unfortunate that many of us don’t observe Ascension. It’s really an important day in the life of the church when you think about it. I mean, if it makes it in the Creeds, you know it’s kind of a big deal.
In the gospel of Luke, I’m drawn to the last portion of the passage. “Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53).
God has done all of this for us. All of this. For us. The question that I am left with, is one I often ask related to stewardship, so what is our response? The disciples, it says, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” Of course, we also know with Pentecost next week the rest of the story, of how with the Holy Spirit they are filled and then sent out. And we are too. So what does it look like when we are sent out? How do we steward God’s mysteries such as the ascension in our daily lives? How are we bearers of God’s love in the world? Any stories that respond to these questions would be welcome reflections which may help bring the mysteries of the Ascension to life today.
The month of May marks one year of serving in my current call. As I think about this, there are two words that surmise how I am feeling a year in. Beyond grateful.
Serving as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship is a blessing. Each day is new and exciting. Each day brings new experiences, new learning, new conversations, new ideas, and new stories. Serving in this role is truly a beautiful melding of my interests, passions, and educational preparation.
Getting to hear and share stories of faith in action each day is a gift. I genuinely believe I have the best call in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America because people entrust their stories to me. They share them, their hopes, their ideas, their questions, and then they allow me to share them with others. I hear stories of generosity, and of responding to God’s calls and promises in amazing and unique ways each day and week. And I get to work with so many wonderful colleagues, peers, and ministry leaders who take such joy in their ministry and calls, and live with such grace towards those they serve alongside and accompany on life’s journey.
Being a Deacon in the ELCA is a joy too. As a “Word and Service” minister, I am invited to preach and help lead worship. But my call is a bit different, because I get to focus on being a resource and partner around holistic and year-round stewardship. This has led me into so many different contexts and congregations, and yet, I know I have barely scratched the surface of seeing all of the amazing examples of ministry that are the Nebraska Synod.
As I have traveled across Nebraska I have visited: Adams, Ashland, Aurora, Blair, Central City, Filley, Fontanelle, Fremont, Grand Island, Holdrege, Hooper, Kearney, Lincoln, Malmo, Mead, North Platte, Omaha, Plymouth, Schuyler, Scottsbluff, Scribner, Seward, Superior, Syracuse, Tekamah, Valley, Wayne, West Point, and Wilber just to name a few places. I have seen the great work of serving arms like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry and others in action. There are so many stories to tell, and way more stories to hear in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
As a rostered minister of the church, I also am receiving Spiritual Direction. It is such a joy to have someone who deeply listens, helps me reflect and process, and wonder deeply about what God might be up to. If you are a rostered minister who doesn’t receive spiritual direction, I can’t encourage you enough. You will grow more deeply in your faith and sense of God’s presence.
I am grateful for so much. For all of you for your support and partnership, and for everyone who continues to welcome and inspire me.
I am grateful for the most amazing team of colleagues whom I serve alongside and who constantly inspire me with their sense of call, passion for being a part of God’s work in the world, their efforts for the sake of Christ’s church, their collegiality, and friendship.
I am grateful to be a part of a nearly 160 year old congregation who is as young and vibrant as any congregation, whose energy is infectious and who has continued to welcome Allison as their pastor and myself as the pastor’s spouse so warmly.
Most of all I am grateful for the best partner in life and ministry, who continues to amaze me with her grace, selflessness, love, honesty, humor, and authenticity in call and faith.
As I embark upon year two in this call, here are at least five things I have learned and will make a priority in the year ahead:
1. Keep Listening
If I have learned anything in my different experiences of ministry and work so far, it is that listening is essential. This means active listening to others as they share their stories, their dreams, ideas, questions, hopes… But it also means quiet listening to the Holy Spirit. For me, this often happens while behind the piano (or even the organ), or while out for a walk along the corn fields.
2. Keep Learning
There is always more to learn, discover, and wonder about. The most inspiring people I know are constantly asking questions, dreaming, and wondering about what God might be up to and calling us to be a part of. I believe life long learning is essential, but it is also a choice. You either choose to continue to live in wonder and discovery, or you don’t. Most of the people I meet in ministry are in this mode. The ones who aren’t are often the ones who seem to run into problems. I never want to be the person who thinks they have learned just about all they will ever know or be able to learn.
3. Embody the gratitude authentically
Everywhere I go, and in everything I do, I try to make no secret that I am thankful and grateful to be there. This year, I want to continue to do this, but maybe even more intentionally. In a stewardship sense, thanking is one of the big three components, so if I am going to talk about this, it’s essential that I embody and live it too. What might embodying gratitude look like for you?
4. Keep Sharing
As others entrust me with these stories, I will continue to share them in preaching, writing, pictures, and more. Just as thanking is a part of stewardship, telling the story of faith and God at work is a part of it too. Because through these stories we invite others to share, and to be a part of this shared work, God’s work of building up the kingdom together. And it is with these stories, that we ask others to join us.
5. Build in time each day or week to remember why you do what you do
I believe this is essential. Life moves so fast, that we can get caught up with just about anything. Some of these are certainly important. Others might be “rabbit holes,” or as we like to refer to in the Nebraska Synod, “squirrels” which distract us from the big picture. To help me with this, I give myself time for reflection and devotion. But I also keep on my desk, my letter of call, a sign of the deeper sense of my role as a Director for Stewardship and Deacon, and the promises and vows made in accepting this call and living out the life as a Baptized Child of God.
Those are five things I am holding up in the year ahead.
What are you grateful for? And what are you holding up as a goal or priority in the months or year ahead?
This past weekend I had the privilege to preach at Edensburg Lutheran Church in Malmo and Alma Lutheran Church in Mead, Nebraska. Thank you to Pastor Andrew Dietzel for the invitation, and to both congregations for the warm welcome. I was invited to preach on the appointed gospel passage according to the revised common lectionary for the Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35, or the story about the “Road to Emmaus.” What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from.
Grace and peace from our God who opens eyes, hearts, minds, and tombs, Amen.
It is a great joy to be with you all today. Thank you so much Pastor Andrew for the invitation, and to all of you here for the warm welcome. On behalf of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ that are the Nebraska Synod, I bring greetings. Today especially I bring Easter greetings from Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and the whole Nebraska Synod staff. Thank you again for the invitation, and for the opportunity to preach so close to home for me. Lately when I have been out preaching and meeting with congregations I have been on the road well before 6am to get to places like Superior or Filley, or spending the whole weekend out in Scottsbluff, Holdrege, or Kearney. Today, I didn’t have to leave from home in Fontanelle until 7:15am. What a gift, so thank you!
I am excited to be with you and to share in the joy of the resurrection, as well as to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to, and of course to share some stewardship thoughts. I think this story today of the Road to Emmaus is a beautiful passage, which is actually a great story of how faith works, of how conversations and relationships happen and form, and how together, we can wonder what God might be up to, and then have the courage and trust to follow and see where God might be leading, and how we are called to be a part of it.
On the Road to Emmaus So, on that note, in today’s story, here we are, only hours removed from the stone being rolled away and the tomb being opened. And two disciples here are on a walk. The walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, is about seven miles. It would be like walking from here to Wahoo, give or take a mile.
On this walk, these two men were unknowingly joined by Jesus, because, you know, what would God do after beating death at its own game? God would find two people trying to make sense of the world, fighting off their despair, and disillusionment, and come alongside them. That’s just what God does– because God is present with us, and for us.
When God in Christ finds these two people, you could imagine Jesus played dumb, when he asked, “what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” But I think what Jesus is really doing here, is inviting a deeper conversation. He is slowly opening these two people up and bringing to the surface the things that the two are wrestling with. By this I mean- Jesus is opening them up by having them share their angst, worries, disappointments, inability to believe the women’s story of their encounter earlier that day at the tomb, and more. They are trying to make sense of this changed world, but they can’t quite get past the despair, and wonderings of “what if” and “what now?”
I love that Jesus responds to Cleopas’ annoyed and astonished question, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” with another question, “what things?” Ah, what things indeed. This is one of the first invitations to share the story of the gospel, only hours after the Easter climax. Jesus himself is inviting these two to share their story, God’s story, as well as the emotional and life stuff all tied up in it.
I imagine that it is out of love, and perhaps a bit of exasperation at this point that Jesus ultimately begins to reveal himself to these two by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Or, perhaps more accurately as another commentator translated this expression, “You sweet dummies!How could you miss this?”
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging, and through teaching, conversation, and the breaking of bread, he opens their eyes.
Then Their Eyes Were Opened- How about our eyes? “Then their eyes were opened.” This is probably my favorite verse in this whole story. “Then their eyes were opened…”
The two disciples are opened up, beyond themselves. They recognize the impact the whole conversation has had internally, but now are aware of it externally. They have connected their hearts, minds, souls, and eyes, and all that they are, have been opened up.
I wonder… When have your eyes been opened? When have your eyes been opened to God working in your midst? When have you been opened up to sense that God is truly present with you? When have your eyes been opened to new ideas, possibilities, and ways of thinking?
Perhaps a story will help? I am not a native of Nebraska. My wife and I are originally from the Seattle area, and since we have been married we lived in Minnesota and went to seminary there, and then returned back to the Northwest for her internship a year and a half ago. So, you might be wondering how on earth am I here now with you? Well, long story short, I was invited to come and see, and did just that the week after Easter Sunday last year.
When I came to visit Nebraska for the first time, when my wife and I visited to discern whether to accept the Holy Spirit’s leading here, all we really knew was, Nebraska is “Big Red Country,” Omaha is supposed to have good steaks and is home to the College World Series, and there’s obviously a lot of Lutherans here. We came to learn and see, and boy did we. Our eyes that had been closed to the wonder of this state were opened. Sure, there may not be Mount Rainier here, and certainly there’s no Pacific Ocean, Mariners baseball or Seahawks football, but I know your devotion to the Huskers. And don’t tell my family and friends this, but I think yours is probably deeper (and perhaps crazier) than any passion for a northwest sports team.
The eye opening has only continued since moving here last fall. In my travels across the state since being called here to this synod with all of you, my eyes have been opened to all of the stories of generosity, of congregations doing amazing things as part of God’s work in the world. I have heard stories of faithful stewards responding to God’s promises and gifts in awe inspiring ways. I have seen congregations open their doors to communities and people in need.
Taking a step back, to have ones’ eyes opened, also means to be changed. The two people in today’s story have been changed. From despair, they have been moved to hope. From disillusionment, they have been moved to clear purpose. From mourning to joy and perhaps even dancing. And that’s exactly what God does through Easter. God changes everything, and that’s what God does for each of us in baptism, and in different ways each and every day.
Where stewardship fits in… This is all God’s work, and thanks be to God for that. But what do we because of this? What did the disciples do who were changed that day on the walk to Emmaus with Jesus? The answers are all about stewardship.
This story, and the stories I have heard of ministry in action across Nebraska as my eyes have been continued to be opened are all a part of stewardship. Stewardship has everything to do with responding to the question of, what will you do because of all that God has done, will do, and continues to do for you? Or, as the Psalmist asks today, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”
The two in today’s story are moved to a joyful response. They don’t stay in the village that they were heading to. No, the same hour as they discover and are changed forever, they get up and return to Jerusalem where they found the eleven and companions huddling. They tell their story that, “The Lord has risen indeed!” Then they share about how Jesus joined them, opened them up and was made known through their conversations, breaking of bread, food, and fellowship. By going back, they don’t run away, or keep this good news to themselves. No, they go back to the city which they left in despair and fear, to share a word of peace, hope, and joy. Because God has done what God had promised to do.
How do you live your life because of all that God has done and continues to do? How do you steward all that you have and all that you are? The decisions each of us make is our joyful response (or not) to all that God has done. God’s action are pure gifts, gifts for us. Gifts we cannot earn. But we can’t help but be so filled with joy, that we are changed because of them. And though as Lutherans we might like to sit in the back pew, we can’t help but be so filled with joy that we will share of God’s love and promises through the ways we live, the stories we tell, and all that we do.
This is stewardship. All that we have and all that we are, have been entrusted to us by God to use, manage, or steward. That includes our money, our time, our talents, but it also means our questions, dreams, hopes, ideas, wonders, passions, vocations, stories, relationships, and creation.
All that we do is a response to God’s gift, and that’s why telling the story of all that God has done and continues to do is stewardship, just as thanking people for being part of it is stewardship, too. So, thank you all again for the invitation and, whether you know it or not, thank you for your continued participation in giving to mission share and mission support.
Your contributions as a congregation make possible the education and development of new pastors and leaders of the church through this synod and the larger ELCA. They help support new, renewing, and transforming congregations and ministries. They also help support the many serving arms of the church including Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, and Lutheran World Relief. Thank you for being a part of this work, and responding to God’s gifts in this way. I have the best job in the ELCA I believe because I get to hear and see your stories of generosity, but then I also have the joy of getting to thank you for them, and to share your stories with all those I meet.
Putting it all Together The two people on the road in today’s story are so moved and changed when their eyes are opened that they’re able to proclaim as we do throughout this Easter season, “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!” They can’t keep this news to themselves quietly in the small village of Emmaus. Instead, they are so moved that they get back on the road they just walked seven miles on, to walk back another seven miles to Jerusalem and to share their joy and excitement.
They have been changed, and so have we. God has done what God does, and I wonder, what will we do now?
This isn’t a one time thing, this opening of eyes that happens because Jesus meets two people on the road, listens and talks with them, and then breaks some bread. This is something that happens every week around this table with a simple meal, when we hear these words “given for you,” and “shed for you.” This is something that also happens every day when we wake up with a new day, a day that the Lord has made, so “let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
God has opened the tomb. God has opened our hearts, minds, and eyes. And God will keep opening them, because that’s exactly how the Kingdom of God breaks into this hurting and broken, yet beautiful and loved world, little by little. We’re all a part of it, as God calls and creates us, because God loves us, and meets us on the road like in today’s story; in a simple meal like we’ll have together in a few moments, and each day in new and exciting ways. Thanks be to God. Amen.