God’s Economic Delivery System- Open Handed, Generous, & For Us

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St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Fremont, Nebraska on a beautiful fall morning.

I had the joy to be with the good people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Fremont, Nebraska today, thanks to the invitation of Pastor Russell McDowell. I was invited to share today’s message as part of the congregation’s Stewardship Celebration Sunday, the Sunday they received financial commitments for the year ahead. The theme for their stewardship focus has been “Live Generously,” with today’s focus being based on an article by Mike Slaughter entitled, “God’s Economic Delivery System.” I used that theme as a basis for my sermon, while also touching on Matthew 25:1-13, and Amos 5:18-24. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from. 

Grace and peace from God in Christ, the bridegroom who invites you to the feast, and who loves you, and is with you. Amen.

Today we hear the story of bridesmaids and the bridegroom, a parable perhaps about the kingdom of God, and waiting for its fulfillment. We also heard the words of the prophet Amos- words about God’s justice and righteousness, and perhaps the relationship of our worship and our identity as Children of God with our vocations, and God’s work. These are two stories of God’s promises, and God’s work. They are two tales of people’s expectations of salvation.[1] They are also two stories about us, and how we are a part of it. They are also not the easiest of passages to wrap our heads around.

We are God’s Economic Delivery System
For the past month you have been thinking about what it means to live generously. You have heard and thought about what this means in practice, what God’s abundance looks like, and what gratitude is. Today, I am grateful for Pastor McDowell’s invitation to be with you, and for your warm welcome. I am overjoyed to be with you as part of your stewardship Celebration Sunday- though your theme for today, might be a little daunting- “God’s Economic Delivery System.” Pastor McDowell shared with me what another pastor recently wrote that, “We are God’s economic delivery system for serving the least and the lost.[2]

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Some examples of the stewardship and ministry in action of the congregation.

We are a part of God’s work. “We are God’s economic delivery system.” As beautiful as we are, as beloved as we are, we’re also sinful, fallible, and we make mistakes. It’s not too much of a leap from here, to recognize why in-spite of the fact that there is more than enough food to feed everyone in the world, we still have epic global hunger, and perhaps are even experiencing the greatest refugee crises since World War II.

The words from today’s parable strike me, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”[3]

Be Prepared
Today’s story about ten bridesmaids is a story about being prepared, but also one about waiting. It’s a story about the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. It’s a story, perhaps about us, and our need to be ready. Our need to step up and respond to God’s call- whatever it is now, and whatever it might be tomorrow, next week, or years from now.

I grew up largely in the 1990’s, so I grew up singing the songs from “The Lion King,” so perhaps you know the song that is stuck in my mind when I think about this passage, “Be Prepared…” Yeah, it’s perhaps not the happiest message especially coming from the villain Scar, but there is a grain of truth in this. We’re called as stewards to steward all that God has entrusted to our care- all of us- all that we have and all that we are. We’re called to love and serve our neighbor.

Our stewardship is our response for all that God has done and continues to do for us. So, are we prepared to be stewards? We have all that we need. But are we willing?

Are We Willing?
Are we willing? Do we believe that with God, we have all that we need? Our very lives, questions, ideas, dreams, vocations, stories, assets, relationships, time, talents, treasure, and creation, have been entrusted to us by God. They are gifts of God, gifts that come with responsibility. Again, are we willing?

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Before worship, offering plates ready and a model of the church, there to receive commitments and giving estimates.

This responsibility isn’t for salvation. That’s a gift of God that we can never earn. That’s God’s work, not ours. But this responsibility is for our neighbor.

I fear that at times, we as Christians are merely going through the motions. God’s own self speaks today in the reading we heard from the prophet Amos.

God says, “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.”[4] Without action, or response, without being moved by the Word of God, and in response to the gifts of God, what kind of life are we leading?

Are we truly disciples and stewards? Or, are we just showing up for an hour each week to receive a pep-talk perhaps in worship, and then to go about the rest of our lives?

I think this is Amos’ point today. We all know the last verse of this reading, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”[5] God’s work, is a work of justice and righteousness. It’s a work of meeting the needs of our neighbors. It’s a work that we are all called into, and equipped and empowered with gifts for. But, it’s a fair question, are we willing to be part of “God’s economic delivery system” in this beloved but broken and hurting world?

It’s Not All Up to Us
Here’s some good news, it’s not all up to us. God certainly wants us to be a part of this work. But we also know and believe that God shows up in the world, loving, and caring for all of God’s children with us, or in-spite of us. God hopes to work with us, and chooses to use us. We see this back way at the beginning of God’s story, when God invites Adam into the acts of creation, and gives him the work of helping name the creatures. God, likewise, invites us to be bearers of love, and workers with God.

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The sanctuary of St. Timothy.

When we think about this idea of “God’s Economic Delivery System,” I also think about the manger, the one we will move again towards in Advent soon. I think about the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. God comes to us as one of us. God in Christ, born, lived, grew, died, resurrected, and ascended for us. In the incarnation, we see a glimpse of what God hopes for us to be. We see a glimpse of what God wants to be, with us.

Maybe I’m thinking about the incarnation today, because my wife Allison is about twenty weeks pregnant. And I can’t help but feel equally excited and terrified. Excited for the new adventures that may await. Terrified for the unknown, and for feeling completely inadequate to be a parent. Excited and nervous about being in a ministry couple, and raising a family. My wife Allison is the pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, and of course, I am a deacon serving on synod staff. Life is going to be different. Yet, even so, even with my moments of fears and anxiety, I know that it’s going to be okay. There is hope.

Of course, as any of you who have gone through the experience of becoming a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, know… it’s exciting and terrifying. It means great changes are ahead. And there is only so much you can do to be prepared. But, there are things that you can prepare for, at least I’m telling myself that as a “Type-A” personality, who likes to plan for possibilities and contingencies.

“For You”
But there’s only so much you can plan for. And this is where I take heart. God’s economics, God’s delivery system, is one that is open-handed and generous.

It’s one we know perhaps most clearly through the sacraments. When we remember the baptismal waters, and receive the mark of the cross which we are sealed with. When we hear the Words of Institution, and receive the elements of bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, given “For You.”

God’s economics can be summed up in two words really- “For You.” Why else would God go to the great lengths that God has gone- to the incarnation, to life among us and with us, to death on a cross, and resurrection? God did all this, and does all this and more for each and every one of us, and all of God’s created, called, and beloved children.

Gratitude for Commitment and Mission Share
God’s understanding of economics is generous. It far surpasses any human understanding of fair or right. You are each a part of this, in the way you respond to God’s good gifts. Today, I am grateful for you for being a part of it. Thank you, for all the ways you serve and respond, and thank you for your commitments and giving estimates that you return and offer today.

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The congregation of St. Timothy, processing their offering and their giving estimates for the year ahead.

When you make these commitments and when you return a portion of what God has entrusted to your care, you are stepping up as stewards. You are doing so as part of the ministry of this congregation, St. Timothy Lutheran, perhaps my favorite possible congregation name ever for obvious name reasons- from one Timothy to another. You are also participating in ministry that transcends this time and place. Through your commitments and offerings, you make a commitment to continue to participate in mission share.

Mission Share is the way each of you helps support the ministry of the larger church through undesignated offering, which helps congregations do ministry that literally spans the globe by giving to the Nebraska Synod and larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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It always warms my heart to see mission share/mission support information on the walls of churches, for all to see.

Mission Share allows you, and your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod to: support missionaries; to provide for new and renewing ministries; to support the training, education, and development of new leaders, pastors, and deacons in this church; and even to support the many serving arms of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Disaster Response, just to name a few. Obviously, there’s lots more than this that you are part of. Thank you for being a part of it, and for being stewards in this way.

Stories of Ministry in Action
St. Timothy, I have heard about you. I have heard about your unique stories and ministry. I see you, and I am grateful for the way that you have answered the call to serve, a call that has changed and perhaps is changing again as the needs of the people of God here in the Fremont area may be changing. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to listen, to wonder, and discern.

It’s these stories that I hear while out across the synod as a Deacon and Director for Stewardship- stories that excite me, fill me with hope, and that I have the gift of being able to share with others. Stories like a congregation who sensed a need for furniture and prayer in their community, so they turned an underused part of their facility into a wood shop to make furniture and prayer chests. Or, stories like a congregation who had ample space, and sensed a great need in its community for clothes and food for those hurting, or not able to make ends meet. So they turned their basement into a department store of sorts, in feel and looks, organized so that anyone in need can come and shop, and take what they need.

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Good reminders for us all- Grow, Share, and Serve.

These are stories that draw me back to the gospel. These are stories of what it looks like when the Kingdom of God breaks in, just a little bit. They are stories of what God’s great wedding feast might look like for us. A feast that we are all called to, some day. A feast that we are all a part of in preparation.

A feast, that’s invitation is open to all through God in Christ’s open hands on the cross, God’s open hands at the communion rail, God’s moving over the waters with justice and righteousness and in creation and baptism. A feast that is most certainly “for you.”

As together we are the church, may we continue together to listen to God, to respond to God’s call, to meet the needs of our neighbors, whatever they are, through whatever we have and whomever we are, as God’s children. May we continue to wonder what God might be up, and to invite and share God’s on-going story with all whom we meet. After all, that story is an invitation to come and see for all that God has done and continues to do, for you and for all creation. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Margaret Odell, “Commentary on Amos 5:18-24.” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3467
[2] Mike Slaughter, “God’s Economic Delivery System,” in Giving. https://stewardshipresources.org/resources/item/668.
[3] Matthew 25:13, NRSV.
[4] Amos 5:22-23, NRSV.
[5] Amos 5:24, NRSV.

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