I had the privilege and honor of being invited to visit and preach on stewardship at First Lutheran Church in South Sioux City, Nebraska today (June 10, 2018) by friend and pastor Doug Dill. Following the worship services there was also a delicious smoked pork lunch fundraiser for Leadership Lab. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from, largely based on the readings appointed for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Pentecost 3B/Lectionary 10B), especially the Gospel of Mark 3:20-35 and 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1.
Grace and peace from God in Christ who loves you, is with you, and challenges and comforts you. Amen.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. This week’s gospel text is a hard one to hear and to understand. Perhaps more challenging than comforting even. It might be one that your Pastor Doug is glad to not be preaching on this week?
But in all seriousness, before I get to that, thank you Pastor Doug for the invitation to be with you all today, and to all of you for the warm welcome. Again, I’m Deacon Timothy Siburg, the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and it’s my joy to be with you First Lutheran. I bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Brian Maas who I know was with you just about a month or so ago. I also bring greetings on behalf of your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Kristen Van Stee, as well as from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod.
I am excited to be with you today and to ponder a bit about what Jesus might be saying in this hard story from Mark, as well as to dwell a bit in Paul’s words “so we do not lose heart.” I am also excited to think about what stewardship might have to do with it, and where we might find ourselves today, and in these stories, as stewards of God’s love.
Today’s Gospel Story- Jesus, Beelzebul, and Brothers and Sisters
Turning to today’s gospel story… Jesus’ ministry has been off to a fast start in the Gospel of Mark. We are only in the third chapter, but the disciples have already been appointed. Jesus has healed people left and right, and even been on a preaching tour through Galilee. So maybe we could relate, in thinking that it might be nice to get a break and to go home. Well, the crowds followed him home, except these crowds weren’t perhaps the most welcoming. They said, “He has gone out of his mind….” Others said, “He has Beelzebul.” How would you like it, if that’s how you were welcomed home?
I can’t say I have been told that before when back visiting my hometown of Poulsbo, outside of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. But I have found that it can be hard to go home and be a deacon, much like I know it can be hard for many pastors to go home and preach. It’s not always easy for anyone to go home and share words of grace and truth with those who you grew up with you and formed you. In some gospel versions of this story, Jesus barely escapes the crowds with his life. Mark doesn’t include that fact, but he does seem to offer some hard truths from Jesus.
Truths like, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Sometimes these truths are taken out of context to hush disagreement, and try and create quiet consensus. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here though. I think Jesus is making the point to have people take a step back, and see the bigger picture. To wonder what might God be up to, and how might God be calling and inviting all of them to be a part of it- part of the building up of the kingdom, of serving ones’ neighbors, and sharing God’s on-going story of love and redemption.
When we allow, our fears get in the way, like the people in today’s story, we might say “it’s wrong,” “fake news,” or “they’re crazy,” to anything we might see that might be abnormal, or out of the ordinary. Perhaps instead in these moments we might be being invited to ask, what might God be up to here?
Amid these hard words today, Jesus offers the promise and assurance that “people will be forgiven for their sins.” That’s good news, a central premise and promise of the gospel.
Now in today’s story, we also have one verse about Jesus’ family. He doesn’t go into much detail here, and frankly, there isn’t a lot to make sense of these relationships from any of the gospels. So I am not going to try and explain them to you. Rather, I’m going to let Jesus’ own conclusion speak for itself, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother…” That’s an important insight for us as the people of God, and the church. It’s also important for thinking about stewardship.
What is Stewardship?
I know that Pastor Doug and many of you have been sharing insights about stewardship in your church newsletter. I have appreciated reading these perspectives. Because of that, it’s probably only fair that I too take a step back and explain a little about what I think stewardship is.
Stewardship starts with an understanding that all that we have, and all that we are is God’s. When I say “all,” I mean all. And no, for those of you who I see towards the back crossing your arms, thinking here he goes talking about money… no. I see you. I get that reaction everywhere I go. Stewardship pure and simply is way more than just about asking for money.
It’s a recognition that all that we have, has been entrusted to our care by God to use, manage, and steward. That means that we are entrusted with: our lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, and hearts; our stories, ideas, dreams, questions, and relationships; our time, talents, gifts, strengths, passions, and vocations; our treasures, money, finances, and assets of all kinds; and even all of creation that surrounds us, just as Adam and Eve were entrusted with creation to care for, like we remember in today’s story from the Old Testament.
Stewardship is also part of what it means to live a life of faith, and grow as a disciple. This is true both individually as individual Children of God, but also together with all of God’s children. Put another way, we are all stewards and co-workers with God, just as Jesus said today, “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother…”
God chooses to be in relationship with us, and to use us to help build up God’s kingdom and do God’s work in the world in and through us. This returns us to the truth in today’s gospel about division among the body. We may well disagree and have different perspectives, and that’s great. The problem is when we let those differences get in the way of the work of ministry being done through us, as a community and in partnership together.
Telling about God’s Work for Us and Our Joyful Response
Each one of us gathered today is called, equipped, and empowered to share in the joy and challenges of the life as a steward and disciple. We grow as a steward and disciple in our faith by telling stories of faith, and sharing about all that God has done and continues to do, for us. In some ways, it’s like taking Paul’s words to the Corinthians to heart today when he writes, “we also believe, and so we speak…”
Imagine if we Lutherans took this a bit more seriously? As Bishop Brian probably told you when he was here, “we have the most beautiful and amazing story to tell!” And that’s a part of stewardship too- telling the story of the one who gave himself for us.
Stewardship is grounded in gratitude and joy. It is our joyful response for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us- the work of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ; the gift and promise of life and new life; all that we have been entrusted with… all of this and so much more, are given to us. We could never earn any of this. And for this, then we say thank you and give God praise. That’s all we can do. And then, caught up in that abundant joy, we are so moved by all that God has done and continues to do, that we can’t help but want to share in that good work. In that sense, our response to God’s gifts and promises is our stewardship.
How We Are Stewards
Paul writes that, “everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” Perhaps better than most of Paul’s writings, this highlights the work of stewardship. The work of building up the people of God, in love and service. And the work of giving thanks, with the hope, “So we do not lose heart…”
Sometimes we lose focus of the larger story of God at work in the world, and let our human desire for control to take over. That can show up in how we misunderstand stewardship to be only about money, or buildings, when both are temporary. Both matter, and our care and use of them matter, but not for them in themselves, but rather so that God’s work can be done today- of meeting the needs of neighbors and strangers near and far.
We are stewards like this in so many ways. Here at First Lutheran, we are stewards by gathering for a meal and supporting the important work of the Leadership Lab, raising up new leaders here today. You are stewards by supporting those in need in any and various ways in the greater South Sioux and Sioux City area. You are also stewards as you are part of the work of the larger church through your participation in mission share.
I want you to hear my deep, deep gratitude for your continued participation in the work of the church in this way. Mission share is undesignated offering that you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA, through which you do ministry that literally spans the globe, extending grace to more and more people, changing lives. Through it, the church supports and helps develop new leaders, pastors, and deacons. Through it, the gospel is spread near and far, through supporting missionaries locally and globally, and providing for new and renewing ministries.
As we are the church together, walking alongside and with one another, mission share helps share new ideas through providing new resources for ministry. By participating in it, all of you help support the work of meeting and serving our neighbors’ needs locally and globally through supporting many of the serving arms of the church, including: Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry, and Lutheran World Relief, just to name a few. Thank you for being a part of it, and for responding to all that God has done for you and continues to do.
“So We Do Not Lose Heart”- Putting it all Together
I hinted at it earlier, but I am not a native Nebraskan. I’m not even a native Iowan or South Dakotan, since we’re pretty close to both neighboring states here, aren’t we? No, I’m actually someone who grew up on the West Coast, and then whom the Holy Spirit in all her humor decided to call my wife and I to Nebraska, not exactly close to our hometowns. But you know something, there have been so many moments where taking a step back, Paul’s words of comfort and assurance, “So we do not lose heart,” have proven true.
The way I have seen and experienced the deep generosity, understanding of stewardship, and gratitude just about everywhere I have visited so far in my two years serving here in Nebraska. The stories I have seen and heard of congregations serving their neighbors in exciting ways, often involving changing the use of their building in creative but Spirit led ways; and stories of communities welcoming and resettling refugees fleeing the horrors of war and violence elsewhere in the world. Even the way I have seen a congregation rally around its Pastor’s family, as my wife Allison and I welcomed our first child Caroline into the world two months ago.
Believe me, there have been hard moments like this past week where both Allison and I have been sick without much of a voice, and our baby has been screaming. It certainly might be nice in those moments to have some family members close by. But in those moments, people have shown up to help, and I sense the people of God supporting one another and building one another up which we are all called to.
Today’s gospel story was not the easiest one, I admit that. But when paired with Paul’s words, perhaps we too might be reminded that we are given these words, “So that we do not lose heart.” That’s why we continue in this life of faith; grateful, thankful, and joyful that God is with us, for us, and loves us, even amid hard, challenging, and uncertain times. That’s why we continue to grow as Christ’s stewards and disciples. And it’s my hope, that all of you, as the gathered people of First Lutheran, continue to dig deeper and continue to grow into this understanding of stewardship. May it be so with the one who calls us, claims us, and loves us. Amen.
Citations and References:
 2 Corinthians 4:16, NRSV.
 Mark 3:21, NRSV.
 Mark 3:22, NRSV.
 Mark 3:24-25, NRSV.
 Mark 3:28, NRSV.
 Mark 3:35, NRSV.
 Based for example on Psalm 24:1-3.
 Genesis 3:20-35, NRSV.
 Mark 3:35, NRSV.
 2 Corinthians 4:13, NRSV.
 2 Corinthians 4:15, NRSV.
 2 Corinthians 4:16, NRSV.
 Based on a reference to 2 Corinthians 5:1, NRSV.
 2 Corinthians 4:16, NRSV.