The Kingdom of Heaven- God’s work and our stewardship

I had the joy of being with the good people of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Wayne, Nebraska this morning, leading worship and preaching. Thank you Pastor Jeanne Madsen for the invitation, and to the congregation for the warm welcome and hospitality. Thank you also for the “road food” and cookies that were sent home with me to share. The sermon was based on the appointed readings from the revised common lectionary for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, especially Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, and Romans 8:26-39. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from. 

Grace and peace from the master sower, the one who calls us to see the kingdom of heaven, and the one who has created, calls, and loves us. Amen.

Our Savior Lutheran in Wayne, Nebraska from the outside.

The Kingdom of Heaven, what a wonderful thing. Today we hear more about what it is, and what it might be, as Jesus shares parable after parable trying to help us understand just a little bit more; to open our eyes, hearts, minds, souls, hands, and imagination.

As a non-native Nebraskan, today’s first of a handful of small parables has taken on new meaning this year. I grew up in the Seattle area, but now my wife and I live in Fontanelle surrounded by corn and soy beans. That puts this image of seeds, like mustard seeds, and the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God into a new perspective.[1]

The Kingdom of Heaven grows with care and attention
Though they are different seeds and different crops, they all require nurturing and attention to grow. They aren’t just scattered and sown. They are cared for. They are stewarded, and with the right balance of care and weather, they grow and are eventually harvested. The Kingdom of Heaven is like this. It grows over time. But it takes attention, focus, purpose, care, and our participation.

The same could be said of Jesus’ second parable today.[2] For yeast to rise, for it to be baked, it needs patience, attention and care. Perhaps it’s kind of like a small child?

Allison and I hanging out with our godson Joel.

This past week my wife and I got to spend a few days with my godson as he celebrated his first birthday. The last time we saw him he was still just a baby being held in people’s arms last fall. Now, oh boy. He can walk, he can move, he can make you smile, and laugh. But I imagine, those of you who know small children would say, it takes a lot of time, attention, focus, purpose, care, and perhaps sacrificed sleep to get to this point. Our godson Joel is growing fast, and it’s exciting to see. Each day is a new adventure- with joys and challenges. I think that might be as good a summary as anything of what the kingdom of heaven is.

These stories today from Jesus are about God’s work, but they are also about us and how we are a part of God’s work. You, me, and all Children of God matter in the building up of the kingdom. God calls us each to be a part of it in many and various ways. And as you might guess, since I’m the stewardship director, I believe this is a stewardship principle.

Our Stewardship and the Kingdom of Heaven
Stewardship has to do with so much more than money. Stewardship starts with an understanding that all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s![3]

God entrusts us with all that we have- to care for it, to use, manage, or steward it. God entrusts us with lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, and hearts to care for, nurture, and grow.

One of the ways Our Savior appears to be engaged in its context is through this youth center called, “Front Porch” across the parking lot, an example of stewardship in action.

God entrusts us each with questions, ideas, dreams, passions, gifts, strengths, talents, and vocations- all entrusted to us to be able to help and be a part of God’s work in building up and growing the kingdom. God entrusts us with stories to tell, time to use, treasures, money, finances, and assets to help be a part of God’s work, and provide our share of it, returning to God what is God’s.

These ways, and so much more, are just a few examples of how we are a part of the building up of the kingdom: through supporting and loving God and our neighbors, meeting their needs as God calls us to; through telling stories of God’s promises and love in action and how each of our stories is a part of God’s on-going story of building up the kingdom of heaven. This building up takes time and attention just like the growth of a mustard seed, the rising of yeast, or the growth of a child.

The Kingdom of Heaven and our Joyful Response
But that’s just a few insights about this kingdom. In another parable, Jesus today describes it like “treasure hidden in a field.” When it’s found, the finder goes out in joy and sells all that he has.[4] It’s also like a “merchant in search of fine pearls.”[5] In both cases, the person in each of these stories goes and sells all that they have. They respond in joy to what they have found. It’s kind of like us.

When we remember all that God has done, continues to do, and will do, we can’t help but want to be a part of it and want to share it with others. We give thanks and praise. We celebrate, and we live a life changed because of the free gifts of God. It’s our joyful response to the good news and promises of God that we hear again today.

Some of the ways Our Savior’s supports the needs of its larger community.

On that note, Our Savior’s, I give thanks and praise for you. Not only are you a faithful and vibrant congregation of God’s people, you are one who understands this. Your generosity and understanding of stewardship is well known. Today, I’m here in part to celebrate with you as part of your capital campaign. This campaign is a response to needs, but more so a step of faith for you, one of trust in God’s abundance, but also a response to all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for you, and even sometimes through you. Thank you for living out your faith and responding to God’s call, and thank you for being a part of God’s work.

Your campaign much like the way you live, and serve here in Wayne and the surrounding areas, shows that you understand today’s parables at a deep level.

Our Response Matters
We also hear today that “the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.”[6] This verse might make more sense for me, having grown up on the water in the Pacific Northwest. But I think it applies, because as in fishing like life; you sort, you work, and you go about your calling and vocations.

Getting ready for worship- the sanctuary as people begin to gather and then be sent back out to do God’s work.

What we do matters! We may not always know how, but Jesus today talks about “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I am not using that as scary language, but I think Jesus is trying to clearly show that what we do and don’t do matters. If we serve or don’t serve our neighbor, what might this mean? I am not saying that we work to earn salvation. That’s not it at all. Salvation is that pure gift of God we cannot ever earn or deserve. But how we respond and live because of it, does matter for the sake of the growth and building up of the kingdom. If we have the opportunity to help someone in need, and willfully ignore them, what does that say about our stewardship and discipleship?

Telling our stories of God at work, helps point to what God might be up to in our midst here, across Nebraska, and the whole world.

Living out our faith and participating in God’s work makes the building up of the kingdom possible. You do it here at Our Saviors. You also do it way beyond the congregation through your mission share participation. Thank you for that, because through it, you along with the other 245 congregations of the Nebraska Synod are able to support new and renewing ministries; help raise up new leaders, deacons, and pastors in this church; support the many serving arms of ministry in action of the church like: Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Campus Ministry, Lutheran World Relief, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling, just to name a few. Together, all of you at Our Saviors and all of the children of God and the congregations of this synod, make all of this, and so much more ministry possible that spans the globe in its reach and impact.

This is God’s Work & God’s Promises
The “kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household,” in that, this is God’s work which we are all a part of. It’s a joy to be a part of it, but it isn’t always easy. In this particular day of political rancor and the wide range of perspectives and opinions, I think this might be even more true.

One of the sheets available at the “Creation Station” in the back of the sanctuary. I love this, and not only does it allow people of all ages to color in worship, but to think about what God might be up to, and to share what they hear God might be calling them to, perhaps as part of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the world.

We live in a beautiful, wonderfully created and loved world. We also live in one that is hurting, broken, and in need of knowing the promises and love of God.

The kingdom of heaven breaks into the world, every day, when someone takes the time to see their neighbor in need. It breaks in, when you take the time to meet and listen to a stranger, or someone who might see things a bit differently than you. The kingdom of heaven comes near when the mourning, hurting, isolated, and abused are noticed, met, and cared for. It comes near, when like God in Christ, we get on our knees to listen, to pray, to serve, and wash our neighbor’s feet. It comes near, when we return to God what is God’s, and joyfully go out into the world to be bearers of God’s love and peace.

God in Christ did the hard work for us, once and for all. Christ’s incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was all for us, and for all of God’s creation. God not only does this for us, God is with us, just as God has promised that God will be. Paul reminds us of this good news today:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[7]

These are God’s promises that are at the heart of the kingdom of God. They are also God’s promises for us this day and every day, in our calling as stewards and disciples.

Allison and I with our friends Amanda and Jeremy (Joel’s parents) and our best friends from seminary, now a group of 3 ELCA pastors and 1 ELCA deacon.

Thinking back to those few days with my godson Joel this past week, these are the promises that I hope and trust that he will hold onto in his life, in the good days and the bad. They are the promises he was marked and sealed with the cross of Christ in, in baptism. (And to be perfectly honest… I don’t think he’s going to have too much of a problem with those, given who is parents are.) But even so, this is what I hope for, for my god son, and for you.

Live abundantly and joyfully. Serve faithfully and generously. Steward always, giving thanks and praise to God, and sharing God’s love through word and deed. These are some of the marks of the kingdom of heaven. May we each continue to bear them. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Matthew 13:31-32, NRSV.
[2] Matthew 13:33, NRSV.
[3] Based on Psalm 24:1-3, NRSV.
[4] Matthew 13:44, NRSV.
[5] Matthew 13:45, NRSV.
[6] Matthew 13:47, NRSV.
[7] Romans 8:38-39, NRSV.

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