God’s Story Changes Everything: and we are part of God’s on-going story as we live, share, and tell it

St. Paul’s Lutheran in Uehling, Nebraska. One of the five congregations of the Faith Ambassadors Parish.

It was a joy to be with the good people of Faith Ambassadors Parish, and particularly the congregations of St. Paul’s Lutheran in Uehling, and St. John’s Lutheran County Line of Scribner today (July 1, 2018). I was invited to preach and share some about stewardship, but also the Narrative Budget. What follows is the majority of the manuscript from which I preached, based on the gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B of the revised common lectionary, Mark 5:21-43.

Grace and peace from God in Christ who loves you, is with you, and is for you, Amen.

Good Morning Faith Ambassadors of St. Paul’s and St. John’s! It is my joy to be with you today. Again, I am Deacon Timothy Siburg, and I serve as your partner in ministry as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod. I bring greetings today on behalf of Bishop Brian Maas, your assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you, are the Nebraska Synod.

Sneaking a picture of the gathered assembly in the sanctuary before worship.

I’m excited to be with you in part, because it means that I didn’t have to get up early when I hit the road this morning, since its only twenty minutes or less from home in Fontanelle here. Speaking of Fontanelle, I bring greetings this morning from your Logan Creek cluster friends at Salem Lutheran there in Fontanelle, and from the congregation’s Pastor Allison Siburg, yes, my darling wife.

Today I am grateful to be with you, and dwell a bit in God’s word for us this day, as well as to ponder about God’s on-going story in our lives, our stewardship and response to it, and even to think with you about how we might tell that story of which we are all a part of.

This Week’s Story
Jesus is kind of busy in today’s story. First, there is Jairus, a synagogue leader who has sought him out for healing his near-death daughter. Jesus goes with him, and the crowds follow. But the journey to Jairus’ house would not be a quick or direct one. Along the way, a woman suffering for twelve years sought Jesus out, and reached out to his cloak for healing. She believed that he could heal. She believed that somehow God was very much at work in Christ. But at first, Jesus didn’t know who had been healed, only that someone had. The crowd was so great, it would be like trying to find one person in the crowd at a Husker football game in the fall. Good luck with that.

But Jesus did find her. The woman came to him, offered her story and her gratitude. To this, Jesus said the words of blessing and sending we all from time to time long to hear, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[1]

Speaking of crowds, here’s a look at the Fellowship Hall full to the brim of people for food, stories, and conversation after worship.

Just as Jesus was offering these beautiful words, word came that Jairus’ daughter had died. It’s almost as if the crowd didn’t even see the woman be healed, or at least didn’t get that, maybe God is very much up to something here healing, saving, and resurrecting- breaking into the world, changing everything- offering hope and promising life.

Seeing the fatherly worry on Jairus’ face, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.”[2] Okay Jesus, easy for you to say in a world that seems full of fear. I don’t know, if I were Jairus I would probably be an emotional wreck, even after witnessing the woman’s healing. I mean if my three-month-old daughter Caroline was near death, I can’t imagine what might stop me from trying to find her healing. Same too for Jairus.

They finally made it to the house. People were wailing and weeping. Deep sorrow and commotion, as you might expect. And, as we might come to expect from Jesus, he makes a statement that seems so out of the blue and impossible, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”[3]

Sure enough, Jesus went in the house with Jairus and the girl’s mother, and the disciples traveling with him. He took the girl by the hand, and said, “Little girl, get up!”[4] And of course, she did. And in the amazement of the moment, Jesus then did this thing that Jesus almost always did, “He strictly ordered them that no one should know this” and of course get her some food to eat.[5]

This ordering of not telling these stories, I feel like we might take this most seriously of all what Jesus has said. I mean, these stories of healing and perhaps even resurrection that we hear today are part of the most beautiful story- one we all are entrusted with to share and tell- the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus- who came as one of us, offering hope, healing, life, redemption, and reconciliation. God in Christ offered that today to a woman, and a young girl whose family was distraught and mourning through the ordinary sense of touch. God offers that to us each day in the scriptures, and in the gifts of the sacraments, the ordinary through which God does the extraordinary.

A Story of Gratitude for God’s On-Going Story
God does all of this, for us. God does this as a gift, one we could never earn. And God does this, because God wants all of God’s people to live abundant lives, to grow as disciples and Children of God, and to love and serve God and all our neighbors.

All that we do, flows in response to God’s actions and God’s story. It flows right out of these baptismal waters into our daily lives- wherever we might go. And that’s really our stewardship.

God has done the hard work, that of overcoming death and the grave, for us. We could never do that. We can’t do that. Thanks be to God we don’t need to worry about that. Instead what we get to do, is to live in the light of that love, to share the overwhelming joy of the Good News of all that God has done and continues to do for us, and when caught up in that joy, so deeply we want to be a part of God’s work, that we follow God’s call into relationships with neighbors and strangers near and far, serving one another as God calls us to do. Like God does today by caring for the unnamed woman who reaches out for his cloak, and following Jairus home to help heal his young daughter. The least we can do, is to see these people all around us, and do what we can as God’s bearers of love and mercy in the world today.

My heart has been filled this week as I have seen example after example of this. You might be aware that over 30,000 ELCA Lutherans, young adults, teenagers, pastors, deacons, chaperones, and volunteers have gathered in Houston for the ELCA National Youth Gathering. We sent over 800 people from Nebraska alone this year. As they have worshiped, and learned, grown in faith together, and built friendships and relationships that will last for years… they also served. Thousands of Lutherans were sent out into the Houston metro area, sent out to help where people might need it. Many of whom were helping in projects still related to hurricane and flood clean-up.

The 800+ Lutheran contingent from the Nebraska Synod at the ELCA Youth Gathering. Closing worship of the Youth Gathering in Houston was held this morning (7/1/18), and with visiting congregations joining the worship at the NRG Center, over 35,000 people gathered for worship today. That made it the most attended worship service in the United States. What’s more, guess how long it took to commune 35,000 people? Impressively, less than 20 minutes.

Imagine if you will, 30,000 Lutherans who deeply understand God’s love, and who want to share that love with others through offering a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, and the ability to listen to others’ stories, and perhaps share them with a world that needs to hear them. When these 30,000 people return to their congregations and faith communities, these congregations will welcome them back, but I hope most of all they will let these young leaders share what they have learned, and offer opportunities for them to continue serving and grow in their leadership. From these youths may well come the next leaders in their congregations, and possibly pastors, deacons, serving arm leaders, and even bishops of our church.

This Changes Everything- and our response and stewardship
As they have gathered this past week and will depart home all across the country later today, they have gathered under the theme, “This Changes Everything.” What a perfect theme for thinking about today’s story.

The five congregations of the Faith Ambassadors Parish.

God’s love and grace does change everything. Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension changes everything for us, once and for all. And because of it, all of us are not only made disciples, and claimed as Children of God; we are all sent out into the world as stewards and disciples. Recognizing as stewards that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s.[6] And all that we have been entrusted with that makes us each the unique Child of God that we are, is entrusted to us to live abundantly, but also to serve.

In response to all that God has done, we serve in many and unique ways. Here, one of those ways is that you have all been open to the Spirit’s movement, and dream of a new day of being church, coming together in this wonderful ministry and partnership that is the Faith Ambassadors Parish.

Thank you St. Paul’s for your continued support of the work of the larger church through your participation in mission share.

Another way you serve, is by participating in mission share, where a portion of your offering is shared with the Nebraska Synod and larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe literally changing lives; through  supporting the work of serving arms of the church like Lutheran World Relief, Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry; supporting the development of new leaders, pastors, and deacons; spreading the gospel through missionary support around the globe, and so much more. Thank you for being a part of God’s work in the world in these ways, and for responding to all that God has done for you.

Telling Our Story- Narrative Budget
There are so many other ways that you all serve that I will never know, and I guess, many of you don’t know all the ways your congregations all serve either. For all those ways thank you. Hopefully the reason you don’t know about them is not because you have taken Jesus stern words at the end of today’s story seriously, that “no one should know this.”[7] Instead, I am guessing you don’t know about all of them because there is just so much that you do, and so many great stories that could be told.

In the invitation I received to be with you today, I was asked to share a little about a resource related to the Transformational Ministry process that Faith Ambassadors recently completed. It’s called a Narrative Budget, and it’s a way to think about all that we do as a congregation related to God’s story, our story as a part of God’s on-going story in the world, and our stewardship of all the resources God has entrusted to us as we use them in doing God’s work. Or, to put it a bit more bluntly, have any of you ever been to a church meeting or annual meeting, and looked around when the budget was being discussed?

Some of the ministries that Faith Ambassadors congregations are a part of.

If your experience is like 99% of every other congregation in the world, then I am guessing that most people’s eyes just gloss over, and the same one, two, three, maybe four people each year are the ones to ask the questions about the budget.

The Narrative Budget is a tool for the whole faith community to engage around a shared conversation about ministry, stewardship, and doing God’s work as the church together. It doesn’t replace the numbers of a line-item budget, but it enhances it, by offering pictures, short paragraphs, and turning the typical budget on its head. It’s no longer solely about numbers on a page, but on what and how those numbers are helping do God’s work– telling the story of how lives have been changed in your midst, telling the story about what God has been up to all over the Logan Creek area from the county line to Uehling, to Hooper to Scribner, and everywhere in between.

I mention this, because I have several copies of the resource to share with you after worship. If you would like, I would be happy to sit down with you and share more about how to use it. But briefly, the idea of a narrative budget is shared with the congregation, kind of like what I am doing now. The congregation then goes about the process of creating the typical line-item budget, and that’s all normal.

Some of the history and stories of St. Paul’s Lutheran. Maybe there might be pictures or stories like this in a congregation’s narrative budget?

Next, comes the more creative process. You need to think about what all the areas of ministry are that your congregation does or is a part of. In thinking about this, it’s important to settle on five to ten categories that could summarize them. They might include: faith formation; fellowship and community; mission engagement; pastoral care; supporting; stewardship; and worship and music. So, in this resource worksheet I go through a hypothetical example of Second Lutheran Church working through this process. I figure I am safe with that name, since I don’t know any Second Lutheran Churches in Nebraska.

The next step involves allocating and adjusting some figures from a line item to a narrative budget. Like for example on a line-item budget, typically you might see salaries, compensation, and utilities. Those are all important, but they do nothing to describe the ministry that is made possible by them. Instead, it’s important to estimate how much time a person who might receive a salary, like a pastor or organist spends of their work in each of those ministry categories regularly, and then divide their compensation up by those areas. Doing that helps paint the picture of what is made possible through the congregation’s resources, or what ministry is being done and in what ways.

The fellowship hall was so crowded after worship for stories, fellowship, conversation, and treats, they put up 3 more tables (like this one) that were filled with people out in the narthex. What a wonderful sign of life and community. 

Or, think of electricity. Instead of just looking at the final utilities bill, think about how much electricity it takes to use this building for worship now this morning. Or perhaps how much is needed for learning times, and meetings each year. Divide up those estimates by the ministry area category, and you might have a better sense of what it takes to do the ministry that is being done that you are a part of, and what all that ministry might include, by doing the basic math and calculations.

The most important part comes next though. Like in today’s story we might ask with the disciples the very Lutheran question, “What does this mean?

How does what we do, how we steward the resources God has entrusted to us in this way, do God’s work? And how can we tell that story? A successful narrative budget helps do this, through one to three pages of brief story and pictures. So, if you are curious what that might look like, please take a copy of this resource. I know that your Transformational Ministry team was excited about it, and I hope you might be too.

Putting it all Together
When it functions best, a narrative budget gives an honest and engaging picture of a congregation’s ministry in action. It’s really a story of where we are, what we are doing, and hopefully why we are doing it. Our story of ministry in action like this and our stewardship more broadly is part of God’s on-going story. An on-going story that we dwelled in today, as we heard God’s word for us, in the story of Jesus healing a woman, and a young daughter too. Just like Jesus offers healing and life for each of us- healing that happens every day really.

I wonder, what stories could we tell if we pondered the question, what might God be up to? I wonder considering today’s story, where do we see God’s healing at work in our communities? How do we see God in this parish and congregation?

Where might we see God and God’s healing in the lives of those whom we are in relationship with? How do we respond to such healing acts? Do we give thanks and praise to God, and tell of the healing to others? Do we ignore it or take it for granted? Or, do we listen to Jesus’ warning to not tell anyone, and somehow lose sight of God’s work all around us?

My hope, is that our hands are ready to reach out offering and receiving healing and love like in today’s story. My hope too is that our eyes, ears, hearts, minds, and souls are open to sense God at work, and to point to God at work. And that we take the time to wonder about what God might be up to, and to share about all that we have seen God is doing- telling the story of God, which is an on-going story that we are all a part of as stewards and disciples of God’s love. May it be so, and may God’s healing, love, and work happen before you, through you, for you, and for one another. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Mark 5:34, NRSV.
[2] Mark 5:36, NRSV.
[3] Mark 5:39, NRSV.
[4] Mark 5:41, NRSV.
[5] Mark 5:43, NRSV.
[6] Based on Psalm 24:1.
[7] Mark 5:43, NRSV.

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