Life as a Disciple, is Life as a Steward- a joyful one, but not always easy!

I was invited to lead worship and preach today at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Tekamah, Nebraska by Pastor Tyler Gubsch. Thank you Pastor Tyler for the invitation, and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. I shared some words of gratitude about mission share and greetings within the announcements earlier in worship, and therefore, omitted them in the sermon that follows. The message was based on the revised common lectionary appointed gospel reading, Matthew 10:24-39, and the passage from Romans 6:1b-11. The following is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. 

Grace and peace from the Risen Christ, Amen.

Thursday evening I found myself joining 200 other people online, and well over 1,000 people in person who had gathered to worship, to pray, to sing, to mourn, and to celebrate the life and ministry of a pastor. Pastor Chris Nelson, longtime Twin Cities Lutheran pastor, passed away last Sunday. He was never my pastor, but I, like countless others in this larger church of ours, was touched by him, and I want to start here today- because he knew something about God in Christ that was deeply profound and which most of us struggle with.

emmanuel sanctuary
The sanctuary at Emmanuel before worship.

All of this- all of us- our lives, our dreams, hopes, our stories- all that we have and all that we are, is because of God. For God has entrusted us with these, and so much more, to do God’s work.

And this work- is the work and a life full of meaning and joy, but one that’s certainly not always easy. It’s the life of being a disciple. It’s the life of being a steward. It’s a life of taking up the cross, and following Jesus Christ. It’s a life of great purpose, but also great challenges. It’s a life of push and pull. A life of being called, gathered, and then sent.

Perhaps then it took a pastor’s funeral, to help me know how to make sense of today’s gospel?

This Isn’t the Easiest Gospel Passage to Hear
This week’s gospel is not the easiest to hear. Jesus is speaking hard truths, and isn’t sugar coating anything. There will be division. The world will be turned upside down. Life will become death, and death in Christ will become life.

Perhaps most strange to our ears, are these words from Jesus,

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”[1]

Woah, Jesus, you are “The Prince of Peace!” What are you saying? If that doesn’t catch you off guard, I don’t know what will.

But in taking a deep breath, I think this has to do with God’s truth and call to each of us. This truth can tear relationships apart. It can divide families. Perhaps it can even divide congregations and communities. At the very least it reflects that each of us has different understandings, perspectives, and experiences, which are all good in themselves, but sometimes complicate our relationships and being in community. This is what being a disciple looks like, and boy it’s not always easy, that’s for sure!

Hard Truths about Discipleship

emmanuel 2
The sign outside Emmanuel.

Jesus today is instructing us in hard truths about discipleship. It’s all part of his lessons for us which Matthew shares in chapter 10 about what it really means to be a part of God’s mission, and to be sent. When we take up the cross and follow Jesus, we need to know that things are going to change. It’s not always going to be easy, and each of us are going to be pushed and pulled in directions which are not always comfortable for us. Sometimes we will be moved and sent far away from our homes and families. Speaking from personal experience, it’s not easy. My wife Allison and I, much like your Pastor Tyler, are natives of Washington state, and Nebraska isn’t exactly close to Washington, ask our families about that.

But in following Jesus, in living this life as a disciple that is filled with change, it’s important to also know that there won’t always be obvious or expected results either. This is something that surely drives those of us who are Type A personalities, who like to control things, and see numbers and results, crazy. But Jesus warned us of this himself last week, when earlier in chapter 10 he teaches and reminds, “You received without payment; give without payment.”[2]

“You received without payment; give without payment.”[3]

This might well be the Lutheran mantra for serving our neighbor. We give, we serve, we do… because God calls us to, and we can do no other. We’re freed in Christ, but in that, we’re bound to each other, to our neighbors near and far. And that is where stewardship comes in.

Stewardship as part of Discipleship
Stewardship is a core part of what it means to be a disciple. It’s also something that’s about way more than just money. And it’s this message I have the joy of sharing as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod.

When Jesus proclaims, “You received without payment; give without payment,” he is describing the free gifts of God. He is describing the Good News and promises of God, made to us and for us. These are promises we hear clearly from Paul today in his letter to the Romans, when Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[4]

emmanuel cross
The life of a disciple and the life of a steward, is a life of the cross, and the joy of the resurrection. This is one of the many stained glass windows in the sanctuary at Emmanuel in Tekamah.

Because of God, we are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” and thanks be to God for that.[5] That’s all God’s work. Stewardship is what follows because of this work. Stewardship is our joyful response to this Good News, to these promises, and to all that God has done, continues to do, and will do for us.

A life of discipleship such as Jesus is describing, is one where we are each a steward of all that God has entrusted to us. All that we have, and all that we are, is God’s. Our lives, our time, our talents, gifts, strengths, treasures, possessions, vocations, money, creation, bodies, even our stories and imagination, have been entrusted to us to care for; to use, manage, and steward by God for the sake of God’s work in the world, and for the sake of our neighbor. How we use them, the choices we make, the things we do and don’t do, is how we live out our life as a steward.

As I have traveled across Nebraska, and seen, heard, and experienced ministry in many forms, I have been in awe of the generosity I see, and all of the unique ways I see people embracing their identity and calling as disciples and stewards. In one congregation, I have witnessed how they have turned their entire church basement into a fancy care closet organized like a major department store providing for any person’s needs for food and clothing.

In another, I have heard plans of turning an underused part of their facility into a wood shop to be able to do ministry with people’s hands and create pieces of furniture for those in need locally. In others, I have seen still many other unique ways of living out their calls. All of these, are beautiful, and all of these expressions of ministry are joyful responses to the gospel which give me joy to tell and share about what God is up to.

When Jesus says in the gospel, “give without payment,” he is calling us to follow.

Jesus is calling us to take up the cross, and to give, and to give freely without expectation of return. We aren’t giving to others expecting them to do something for us. That’s a transaction, and that’s not at all how God’s love works.

Overfilled with Joy, We Can’t Help but Share
When we give and serve, we do so because God calls us to. We give because we know that God chooses to use each of us in our various unique strengths, passions, and gifts to build up God’s kingdom and to do God’s work in and through us. We give, because we can’t help but be so excited and filled with joy because of all that God has done.

emmanuel globe
“Sent, Called, Gathered, and For” the whole world. Another of the many stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary at Emmanuel.

This joy- because of the Good News of the gospel, and the promises of a God who knows us, including all the hair on our head; because of this God who promises to be with us, and who loves us; is a joy that we cannot keep to ourselves. In fact it’s impossible to keep to ourselves. Jesus in fact, calls us today to “tell in the light” and “proclaim from the housetops” all that God in Christ has done and said.[6]

I know, I know. I know what you’re probably thinking. “But we’re Lutherans, we don’t like to talk (at least about ourselves)!” Never mind, “Evangelical” is the first name of our church…

Perhaps we’re too pious? Too humble and quiet? Perhaps we think it’s just the pastor’s job? Probably though, we’re just a bit afraid. I bet the disciples were afraid too when hearing what it means to be a disciple and to take up the cross. I mean, for son to be set against father, daughter against mother, and so on and so forth, that’s not an easy or probably fun life.[7] Jesus today is getting under our skin, and it’s not the most comfortable message to hear.

Jesus is Shaking Things Up – and it’s time to be pushed
Jesus is shaking things up today. This Jesus is the same one who turned over the money tables in the Temple. The same one who was nearly thrown off a cliff after preaching in his hometown. Jesus’ words aren’t always easy to hear. But it’s especially in these times when we need to hear them and be pushed.

storm damage
One of many trees taken completely out of the ground by the storm last Friday in our area.

How many of you had major storm damage last week? A week ago Friday, Allison and I had our first major Nebraska storm experience. We saw the sky turn green in Fontanelle, so we headed to the basement. Later we saw what looked like a wall of water, or what others in our congregation called a blizzard of water.

After the storm passed, there were trees down everywhere, and neighboring Nickerson was hit even harder. But after the clouds cleared, we witnessed members of the community checking on one another. We saw people from near and far come together to clean up neighbor after neighbor’s yards the day after on Saturday in Nickerson. That was ministry in action. It was stewardship in action. It was what discipleship looks like, when we remember that we are not alone.

I believe I saw God at work in the hands of service; in the ears of listening; in the voices of those telling what they saw and their gratitude that no one was hurt, that God was present, amid the storm- a gratitude that I also saw as God was present and at work in and through each person that day. The kingdom of God broke into our midst, just a little bit last week, as many heard the call to come, see, follow, and serve- the call to pick up the cross.

Our neighbors, like those hit with storm damage in Nickerson, are crying out. Our world is crying out. Will we listen and meet our neighbors where they are at? Or will we close ourselves off behind the walls of a building like this? Will we have courage to work for justice and peace in all the earth, or quietly wish things were different and just go on our own little way?

Taking up the cross and being a disciple is not an easy thing. Being a steward is not an easy thing. But here’s the good news- God has already done the real hard work for us! God has beaten death at its own game.

Do Not Fear- for even though there is change, there is hope!

emmanuel disciple
The incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus- God in Christ who is with us says “do not be afraid.” (Another stained glass at Emmanuel.)

Amid Jesus’ hard words today, he says, “do not be afraid…”[8] Amid his bearing truth today, God in Christ reminds us that God is here, and God is with us. Things might be a bit different today and tomorrow, in life, and in the life of the church. The way we have done things or have known things to be, may be changed, and Paul says as much.

“Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in newness of life.”[9]

This “newness of life” means change. But it also means hope. It’s this hope that Pastor Chris Nelson served in, and trusted as his earthly life came to a close last Sunday. It’s also this “newness of life” that is the story of God each of us is called to share, a story that is both written in the Bible, but also one that is continually being written and created as God’s on-going story, is our story which we share.

emmanuel fellowship
Some of the faithful at Emmanuel Lutheran after worship, checking-in and enjoying fellowship with one another.

Bishop Maas likes to say that “we have the most beautiful story to tell.” Today we’re not only called to follow, we’re called to “take up the cross,” “to tell,” and to also “proclaim.” This is what it looks like to be a disciple and what it means to be a steward of God’s love.

We’ve been entrusted with all that we need to do this work. I wonder then, what might your discipleship look like here in Tekamah? What might your stewardship look like here in Burt County?

As Jesus calls, let us have courage to come, see, tell, and proclaim. Let us have patience to take up the cross and follow. Let us have heart to join with open hands and open minds, knowing that God has already done the hard work for us. Let us have will to discern where God is calling, and to steward all that we have and all that we are which is God’s anyway. And let us have souls to join with open arms, greeting, hugging, and reconciling with one another as we commit and recommit to be disciples together. Amen.

Citations and Resources:
[1] Matthew 10:34, NRSV.
[2] Matthew 10:8, NRSV.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Romans 6:5, NRSV.
[5] Romans 6:11, NRSV.
[6] Matthew 10:27, NRSV.
[7] Matthew 10:35-38, NRSV.
[8] Matthew 10:31, NRSV.
[9] Romans 6:4, NRSV.

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