“Who do you say that I am?”- and the stewardship of relationships

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This morning I had the great joy to be with the good people of Salem Lutheran Church in Fremont, Nebraska. I am especially grateful for the warm welcome and invitation from Pastor Chip Borgstadt. The sermon for today was based on the appointed lectionary readings from Matthew 16:13-20, and Romans 12:1-8, and what follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. 

Grace and peace, from the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Amen.

The Central Question
“Who do you say that I am?”[1] Who is this person, who asks Peter and the disciples to respond? Who or what is God? What might this question mean for Peter & Jesus’ relationship? For Jesus & us? For our relationship with each other, those gathered here, and our neighbors and strangers near and far from here? What might this question mean for us as stewards?

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Perhaps Jesus is asking you today like the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Some of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary at Salem in Fremont)

I want to start with these questions today, because our responses matter. They don’t matter for salvation- that’s a free gift God has already promised to us and for us. But our responses to these questions matter- because they shape who we are, our understanding of ourselves as Children of God, and our identity, vocations, and relationships as disciples and stewards.

So, if Jesus asked you, “who do you say that I am?” what would you say?

Perhaps you might say: a prophet, the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, the Son of God, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, the Savior, Messiah, Emmanuel, I Am, the Alpha and the Omega, the Son of the Living God, Salvation, the Crucified and Resurrected One…

How you answer this question, shapes who you are. It helps explain how you live your life- the choices and decisions you make, the things you do or don’t do, the way you are in relationship with others. The answer also shapes who we are as a congregation, and the church. From our answers to these questions, might flow everything about how we live a life of faith.

The Relationship of Peter & Jesus
God makes more of our lives than we can make of our lives by ourselves. Today we hear the promise that God in Christ will build the church upon the rock that is Peter.[2] This is not because Peter has the right answer to his question today. It’s because God sees a faithful apostle, a human- good and bad; saint and sinner, but with God, one who can be part of something way bigger than himself. Just like us.

God entrusts & God uses all that we have and all that we are
Stewardship starts with an understanding that all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s! What we have, has been entrusted to our care by God to use, manage, and steward. Our lives, stories, hopes, dreams, questions, passions, money, assets, ideas, bodies, vocations, relationships… all that we have and all that we are, is part of our identity as a unique Child of God who has been called, created, and is loved by God. This was true for Peter, and this is true for us.

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The beautiful sanctuary of Salem Lutheran in Fremont before worship.

The work of building up the kingdom of God, is a work that God in Christ invites us to be a part of. This work is done through community together. Each person is called, equipped, and empowered in baptism to share in the joy and challenges of what this means, like what Paul says today,

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…”[3]

There are many parts of this Body of Christ that we are all a part of in our various ways, gifts, experiences, and stories.[4] Each of our gifts and vocations, are integral in doing God’s work together, in relationship with God and one another.

Telling the Story- a central part of stewardship
Stewardship has everything to do with telling the story of faith, telling God’s story of all that God has done and continues to do for us, and inviting people to be a part of it.

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Some of the ways that the congregation of Salem Lutheran in Fremont understands itself as church, and works to share that understanding with others. (As seen on a door- kind of reminiscent of Luther’s 95 Thesis perhaps?)

I fear that from today’s gospel, the part that we have most understood as the church, or at least as somewhat quiet Lutherans, is the last verse. Jesus “sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”[5]

But, maybe this question today is an opportunity? Perhaps it’s an invitation to wrestle with our answers to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” We all might answer it a bit differently. It might even involve a question of personal faith, where we tell about God, such as:

The Relationship of Jesus & Us
What has God done in your life? Or, how have you seen or sensed God in the world-  Through what every day moments of grace have you sensed God in Christ? Or through what moments of eclipse of the sun like transcendence?

Moments of grace that come to mind: like when given a question by a child; or when someone stops for a genuine conversation; when one holds the door open for another; when someone comes over to your house and helps when your basement plumbing backs up; when someone gives you a hug or brings you a cup of coffee; or maybe the transcendent moments like the eclipse this past Monday when there is a moment of hush outside, and you suddenly wonder if you are experiencing a moment of God’s peace.

Our Answer to the Question Shapes Who We Are
You already know this, but stewardship is part of what it means to live a life of faith and growth as a disciple. We grow in our faith by telling stories of faith, and sharing all that God has done and continues to do, for us. That might well start with answering the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

If we believe in the Triune God whom we profess about in the creeds, we are making a claim about a God who shows up, and promises to show up. We are making a claim about a God whom we ourselves may have seen or sensed is up to something, and active in the world around us. Perhaps we have heard about this God from those close to us, or a perfect stranger who once told a story that then begged the question, what does this mean?

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Pastor Chip with some of the younger saints of Salem Lutheran. It’s in conversations like these where faith is formed, and where we are each, at all ages, invited to think, grow, and wonder.

I would guess that each one of you is here today because someone along the way invited you, or invited your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents. You were invited to come and see that the Lord is good, through the community here and in the sacraments.

I would guess that many of you were so impacted by somebody in your life who led you or drove you to church, or whose story about God stayed with you, and led you to wonder, what does this mean? I would hope that many of you have been given the chance to ask this question, and to wonder about, what might God be up to here? And how might I be being called to be a part of it, or, perhaps, how am I a part of it?

Our answers to these questions will be unique, because God’s story is unique to each person. The promises are the same. But the way God shows up, is different because God meets us where we are at.

We believe in a God who moves us to action. We are so moved by all that God has done and continues to do, that we can’t help but be so overjoyed we want to share in that good work. This might mean in telling the story, starting with an answer to the question of “who do you say that I am?” How we respond to this question, then leads to a longer story of how we understand ourselves in our faith- as disciples and stewards. As our response shapes the way we live our life, it’s also our response to God’s gifts and promises, which is our stewardship.

My Working Answer to the Question
Since I asked you to think about this question, it’s probably only fair to share a bit about me. Growing up the son of a music minister, the nephew and grandson of Lutheran pastors in the Seattle area, we talked a lot about faith and vocation. I remember after church on Sunday mornings my parents would ask my brother, sister, and I, “so what did you think about the pastor’s sermon today?” Some weeks we didn’t have a lot to say. Others, we had tons. It was always the sermons with questions that had longer conversations. Because a question leads to another question, and then to another question…

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Some of the signs and symbols of Salem Lutheran’s understanding of God’s love and presence, and God’s kingdom.

As I think about “Who do you say that I am,” I think about a God who shows up and is near. A God who promises to be with us, who is willing to go to and through death for us, and who loves us in-spite of ourselves. I think about a God who delivers us like the psalmist talks about today.[6] I think about a God who provides and is salvation, like Isaiah declares.[7] I think about a God who loves us, just because we are God’s. And you know that kind of grace is freeing. It’s also freeing because it allows us to remember that it’s not just about us. It’s about God with us, and when I say, us, I mean all of us, gathered here and around the globe, together.

The Relationship of Us & Others: Stories of Faith in Action
Part of the joy I have in this role as Director for Stewardship is getting to hear stories of faith in action, and thanking people and congregations for doing the important ministry they are already doing and are a part of.

In my travels across this state, I have seen and heard stories of congregations doing exciting things. North of here, I have witnessed five congregations come together in a unique partnership to share ministry across a whole county, stewarding resources together. Elsewhere I have seen another congregation turn an old underused space into a wood shop to create furniture for those in need in the larger community. Another congregation I have visited, has turned its entire basement into a beautiful care closet organized like a department store full of clothes, shoes, accessories, and even groceries.

Seeing ministry like this is inspiring, and it shows that when we listen to discern the needs around us beyond the walls of a church building such as this, that God is indeed up to something. We each have capacities, gifts, means, and ideas to meet the needs of our neighbors. Ministries like this, are possible because we are willing to experiment, and listen to how God might be calling us to steward that which God has entrusted to us.

Asking & Thanking
On that note, I want to say thank you to you, Salem Lutheran. Thank you for your faithfulness, and your service and ministry here in Fremont, and for the way you are faithfully discerning where God might be leading and calling in this new, challenging, but also exciting day.

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It always gives me joy to see Mission Share (or mission support) certificates posted in the congregation, so that those present can see how they are a part of the work of the larger church.

I want to especially thank you for your continued partnership in the larger church through your mission share participation. Through it, you along with the other 245 congregations of the Nebraska Synod can 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, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry (including Camp Carol Joy Holling), and Lutheran Disaster Response- especially important now in the midst and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and many other serving arms. Together, all of you at Salem and all the congregations of this synod make ministry possible that spans the globe, so thank you for being a part of it!

As a non-native Nebraskan, I am constantly inspired by the generosity and depth of stewardship here in this synod and state. I am grateful for you. I believe that we each participate in ministry, and live our lives as stewards because in our own way, we each answer the question of “Who do you say that I am,” and remember the good news and promises of God. Our giving, and the way we live our lives in gratitude and abundance, are our joyful response to God.

Now it’s your turn
So, one more time I ask you, “Who do you say that I am?”

I would love to hear your stories and answers. Your friends sitting in the pews next to you I’m sure would love to hear them today after worship. And I believe, the world needs to hear them, and how your answers lead you here to this table together, washed in these waters, and sent out from here to the larger world.

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A fitting window and message to walk out under after worship. How will you answer today’s question in the way you share your story, God’s story with others? How will you answer it in the way you live your life?

God did the hard work for us. God is here with us. Now let’s take a chance, and answer God’s own question. Imagine what could happen if we all do this? Thankfully it’s not all up to us, it’s God’s work. But it’s deeply meaningful, challenging, and rewarding to be a part of it, as a disciple, steward, and Child of God.

I pray that you’ll take a chance to think about this question for yourself, and share your answer or story with those in your life. You never know where it might lead, or how God might use it or use you. For when you answer this question, your life changes forever as you come, follow, and live as a disciple and steward. Amen.

Scriptural References:
[1] Matthew 16:15, NRSV.
[2] Matthew 16:18, NRSV.
[3] Romans 12:4-8, NRSV.
[4] Romans 12:6, NRSV.
[5] Matthew 16:20, NRSV.
[6] Psalm 138:7, NRSV.
[7] Isaiah 51:6, NRSV.

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