Hope, Connect, Go: A Stewardship Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

It was a joy to be back with the good people of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Tekamah, Nebraska. Thank you friend and Pastor Tyler Gubsch for the invitation to help kick off an Advent series on stewardship. The sermon was based in part on the appointed readings for Advent 1B in the lectionary, especially: Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-9, and Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. 

Grace and peace from God in Christ, who comes to us as one of is, is near to us, and is with us, Emmanuel. Amen.

Happy New Year! Today we begin, “Year B” in the lectionary, a year largely with the gospel of Mark. We begin the season of Advent, officially. And we begin, a special focus on stewardship. This must be the best time of the year for you Emmanuel. I mean, it’s the time of year where your congregation’s name takes on even more meaning. God with us, Emmanuel.

Pastor Tyler Gubsch is ready for Advent with his blue stole, smiling before worship.

I’m so glad to be back with you today. Thank you Pastor Tyler for the invitation, and to all of you again for the warm welcome. I bring greetings on behalf of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ, who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I also bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Brian Maas, and your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Juliet Hampton.

I’m excited to be with you, and ponder a bit about what God might be up to today, and to think more about stewardship, which I am honored to help kick off your Advent theme about today.

Today’s Story
The last time I was with you, back in late June, I didn’t have the easiest text to preach on, remember the one where Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”[1] This week’s gospel lesson isn’t so different, is it? Today we hear about the Coming of the Son of Man, and the importance of keeping awake. Today’s stories come in Mark right before the events of the passion. Jesus is already in Jerusalem, as he has already had his triumphant entry into the city, but hasn’t quite had dinner with his disciples yet. These then are among the last instructions and teachings Jesus leaves with his disciples.

People for generations have tried to make sense of these words, “But in those days, after that suffering the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”[2] Perhaps they are about the end times, some might say? Perhaps they are a response to the fear and anxiety that might come with the destruction of the Temple? Perhaps they are signs that God’s kingdom breaks in a little bit each day, unexpectedly and not always as we might hope or desire.

Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”[3] Things will change. Despite what some popular TV evangelists, or street preachers might tell you, nobody knows the day. And nobody knows truly what any of this means.

Jesus seems adamant about this declaring, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”[4] With this admission, comes words of warning, and the clear message, “Keep awake.”[5]

Keep awake.” This could be anxiety inducing. But I think it means something a little differently. As we begin our Advent practices, I think this is an invitation from God in Christ to be mindful, and to be present. “Keep awake,” doesn’t have to mean, “be on guard.” Perhaps rather it’s an invitation to us, to open our ears, eyes, minds, hearts, souls, and dreams to listen and wonder, what might God be up to? God is on the loose. God broke into this world as we remember this season as a Baby. But God in the Holy Spirit is very much active and up to something today.

Advent Theme of Stewardship
Stewardship is at the heart of our life as disciples and Children of God. We often limit it to being about money and finances. So, I’ll name that up front. And I will say this, yes, I am here to preach on stewardship. And as you cross your arms, know this too, this is the last time I am going to use the word money in this sermon. Stewardship has way more to do beyond that, and that’s really what I want to share with you today.

Stewardship starts with an understanding that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s.[6] What we have, has been entrusted to our care by God to use, manage, and steward. This includes: our lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, hearts, stories, and relationships; our time, talent, treasure, ideas, dreams, questions, gifts, strengths, passions, and vocations; our assets of all kinds and even all of creation.

Stewardship is part of our very identity as a Child of God who has been called, created, and is loved by God.[7]

This wide sense of stewardship is helped by a reminder that we heard from the Prophet Isaiah today, that, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”[8] Not only has God created us, and continues to create us. God co-creates with us, inviting us to serve and live as stewards and Children of God, as we are all God’s people. All of us. All of our neighbors. All of our strangers. Sometimes we lose sight of this, but in this time of Advent, it might be a wonderful time to open ourselves up a bit wider.

The Advent Candles and Wreath are ready for the First Sunday of Advent.

In this Advent time, as you focus on stewardship, I invite you not only to think about what you might bring to the Baby in the manger and offer like the wise men, but also, how might God be calling you to steward all that you have, and all that you are? Particularly today, I am wondering about your sense of presence, time, place, and life. Or, in light of today’s story, how do you “keep awake?”[9]

Stewardship encompasses everything that we do in response to what God has done and continues to do for us. As this is the first day of the new church year, maybe reflecting on Mark’s sense of this might be helpful. Mark begins his gospel simply and directly writing, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[10] It doesn’t get more down and to the point in the Bible than that.

Within the gospels, we know the Good News of God in Christ. We know part of the story of God’s gifts and promises of redemption and savings acts for you, for us. We see parts of God’s on-going story. God’s story is one that is not limited to this gospel, nor to the entirety of the Bible. Because if that were so, there would be no more. God would have gone home, and left us to our own devices. Thank goodness that’s not the case.

Why am I so confident about this? Well for one, look to the longer ending of Mark, which reads, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.”[11]

“They went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere…” And, “the Lord worked with them…” That sure seems to imply an on-going relationship, that God is at work even after the ascension, and is at work with us today. That’s freeing. It’s also a bit daunting. But this is exactly the work to which we have all been called and created to be a part of.

In the Nebraska Synod we have a mantra, “Hope, Connect, Go.” These three words describe what we collectively understand ourselves to be, and the work that we all do. Hope is the very why of who we are, and why we do what we do. Without the Word of God- the Good News; without the promises and free gifts of God which we remember most clearly through the simple yet extraordinary elements of water, bread, and wine; we’d just be going through the motions. None of this would make any sense.

But we have hope because we believe in a God who is with us. Who comes near to us. Who loves us, and is willing to not only be born as one of us, live among us, teach and learn with us, but also die and be resurrected and ascended for us. In these dark days, as the nights continue to get longer for a few more weeks, and perhaps in these darker feeling days of uncertainty and anxiety in society and the world around us, we have hope, that God’s promises are true. And we are called to steward them, just as much as we are called to steward God’s Word in the way we live our lives, share God’s on-going story, and point to God’s on-going presence.

Hope, in the form of a tall and beautiful Christmas tree in the sanctuary.

Hope is what makes stewardship possible. Without hope, we wouldn’t be responding to God’s gifts and promises. Because we have hope, because we know of God’s promises, we can and do respond joyfully. Because we have hope, our response is our stewardship. God has done all of this, and so much more for us. We could never earn this. But because it’s a gift, we are freed. But we are also, equipped, empowered, called, and sent for the sake of our neighbors. We are called to share this Good News, but also to meet our neighbor’s needs whatever they might be. No matter the day or the hour.[12]

How do we show up in the world, our communities, even our churches? One of God’s greatest gifts is not only time, but presence. God entrusts us with time in the hope that we live an abundant life as one of God’s children in relationship and community. God’s presence, which we partake in around this table, is a foretaste of the feast to come. But it’s also an opportunity this Advent to take stock of our own presence.

Do we go about our days, just “going through the motions?” Or do we allow ourselves time to be in God’s word, to talk with neighbors and strangers, to reflect and wonder what God might be up to? Do we share a sign of God’s peace with a smile, handshake, or hug with those near and far, or do we walk or drive by and try to keep our heads-down?

“Hope, Connect, Go.” The hope we have in God propels us into connections, relationships, with God and one another. It also not only calls us to consider how we are stewards of homes, and church buildings, but stewards of whole communities. God didn’t stay in the manger. God didn’t stay on the cross, and certainly couldn’t be contained in the tomb. Do we embody this? Or, do we keep our faith life locked in a building like this? In the safety of a sanctuary like this?

Friends, I am not meaning to be harsh, but we’re called as Children of God to gather and be sent. If we don’t honestly believe this, we’re not really stewarding anything. We’re then just hoarding God’s Word and promises to ourselves.

That’s why I am so excited to hear and share stories of congregations who are active and connected outside of the walls of the buildings in which they gather.

I have heard about congregations who hold their council meetings out in the public in restaurants or pubs, so that people in the larger community see and can sense that ministry means more than just a building, and it’s not some exclusive club behind closed doors. I was so filled with joy to be with you back in October at the Reformation Beer & Hymns event, and I am ecstatic to be with you again for Beer & Carols later this month, out in the community just like Martin Luther modeled 500 years ago.

Martin Luther was famous for discussing theology late into the night with friends like Melanchthon and passersby sometimes with full steins, but also for going where the people were. Not only did he translate God’s Word into the vernacular German, and put it in people’s hands courtesy of the Printing Press, Luther according to legend helped cultivate learning and stories using the language and musical tunes familiar to people, including writing hymns to bar tunes.

When we sing hymns and carols, we are telling God’s story. We are sharing it through song, and it’s not something that should be reserved for worship on Sundays, but rather, something that’s shared at all times and places, because God is there. God is here. God is everywhere. And it’s our job, our duty, and our joy, to wonder what God might be up to and to have the courage and humility to point to God’s presence wherever people might find themselves.

That brings us to the third word, “Go.” Just as the disciples went and were sent, so are we. Our God is a God on the move, and we join God in this. We join God locally here, by listening to our neighbors at the Chatterbox, Winner’s, Subway, and the gas stations.

One of the ways the congregation of Emmanuel is joining God this Advent season is through gathering gifts and presents for people who might not be able to afford (or receive) them otherwise.

We join God across this synod and larger church by partnering in ministries that span the globe through your undesignated offerings and mission share participation that help raise up new leaders in the church, support serving arms like Mosaic, and support missionaries among so much more.

We join God by sharing questions, ideas, dreams, and stories of faith. Perhaps it was a parent, grandparent, teacher, friend, or stranger who first shared with you something about God? Perhaps you have done likewise with a child, friend, or new acquaintance?

All of this, is really the stewardship of life. God has entrusted you with all that you have, and all that you are, your whole being. Life itself. How are you stewarding yourself? Are you giving yourself room to learn, and steward your minds- with questions, dreams, ideas, strengths, and passions? Are you caring for your relationships? Are you caring for your heart, body, and soul?

This Advent, I invite you as you consider more fully what it means to be a steward, to also consider what it means at a deeper level to, “Hope, Connect, and Go.”

My hope is that you are able to not only have a deeper sense of God’s presence, but also that you might find a deeper sense of presence, stewarding your whole-self. My hope and prayer is that as you journey to the manger, you are awake and mindful- and allow yourself time to be quiet and listen, but also time to try something new and wonder aloud what God might be up to. My hope is that together, we each grow a bit fuller in our sense of selves as stewards, and resting in God’s promises as God’s beloved children.

With the psalmist we proclaim and plead, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”[13] The good news is, God has done and will do this. God with us, Emmanuel. That’s the good news of Advent, news offering hope and peace in a hurting world. Good news we each have to share and steward. Thank you for being the stewards and disciples you are, and may we each live in this message of hope, connect, and go. Amen.


Citations and References:
[1] Matthew 10:34, NRSV.
[2] Mark 13:24-25, NRSV.
[3] Mark 13:31, NRSV.
[4] Mark 13:32, NRSV.
[5] Mark 13:37, NRSV.
[6] Based on Psalm 24.
[7] Genesis 1:27-28.
[8] Isaiah 64:8-9, NRSV.
[9] Mark 13:37, NRSV.
[10] Mark 1:1, NRSV.
[11] Mark 16:19-20, NRSV.
[12] Based on Mark 13:35-36, NRSV.
[13] Psalm 80:7, NRSV.

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