We’re a People on the Go, who is Blessed to be a Blessing

The beautiful west side of Shepherd of the Hills that greeted me on this majestic Sunday morning.

I had the privilege to be with the good people of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Hickman, Nebraska this morning (Sunday September 16, 2018), preaching on stewardship and leading a learning time conversation after worship. Thank you to friend and Pastor Ron Drury for the invitation. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached on, based on the Narrative Lectionary’s focus text, Genesis 12:1-9, and accompanying gospel passage, Matthew 28:19-20

Grace and peace from God in Christ, who calls us, sends us out telling us to “go,” and who is with us always. Amen.

Good Morning Shepherd of the Hills. It’s great to be with you this morning. Thank you Pastor Ron for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, and your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Megan Morrow, 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, and to dwell some in this story about the call of Abraham and God’s blessings to and through Abraham for all of creation, but also to think about what this might mean for us as stewards of God’s love and bearers of God’s blessings and promises. What a rich story in the narrative this week, as we move from the promises of a rainbow and the saving actions of an ark from a flood, to today, a promise and call from God to Abram.

A Call to Go
In the gospels, people who interact with God are usually greeted with the words, “Do not be afraid.” We’re not in the gospels though. No, today the Lord is much more direct. The Lord tells Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”[1] God might as well be saying, “Go from all that you have known.”

And the beautiful east side of the church’s property that greeted me in the morning. A sign of welcome, but also a sign that sends the faith community out with a “go.”

This call to “go,” may be a hard one to take in. But it’s a call that changes everything for Abram, one that ultimately changes his name to Abraham. A call that will lead to more blessings and promise than he could ever hope for or imagine. It’s a call that will lead him far away from the land and the people that he has known. It’s a call that will lead him through some hard experiences- destruction, the apparent barrenness of his wife Sarah, the inexplicable and unexpected birth of two sons with different mothers, and even the testing of his faith by nearly having to sacrifice his and Sarah’s son Isaac. It’s also a call though, through which the world will change forever.

In the receiving of God’s call, and in his following the call to go, Abraham receives far more than he could have ever dreamed. God says, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[2] Through Abraham, all that come after will be and are blessed. And all of this, stems from God binding Godself to Abraham in this promise, much like God bound Godself to Noah in the promise that God would never again send such a flood to cover the whole earth.

Blessing and Promise- God’s Ultimate Work for Us
The blessing and promise that Abraham receives is one that has at least three parts.[3] There is a promise of descendants and the legacy of generations to come, that God says, “I will make of you a great nation.”[4] Later this will become clearer with the knowledge that his descendants will be as numerous and abundant as the stars in the sky.[5]

A classic stewardship banner found on a hallway wall at Shepherd of the Hills.

There is a promise of blessing. Perhaps you have heard the popular phrase, “you are blessed to be a blessing?” It comes right from today’s story. As God says to Abram that “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”[6] This is a blessing that is not just for Abraham or his family’s sake, this is a blessing “for the sake of the whole world.” [7] You know like through the saving acts of Abraham’s grandson Joseph of the famished people in Egypt which is part of the story next week, or, perhaps the one we know best through the fulfillment of the promise and saving work of a descendant long down the line to come, Jesus, who will do the ultimate saving act once and for all in and through the cross, for us and for all.

There is also a promise of land. God says, “To your offspring I will give this land.”[8] And perhaps it’s no wonder then that this land that God gives is one that is as contentious as  ever, since at least three of the major faiths in our world all trace their roots and stories back to Abraham.

There’s so much in this story, we could just sit here all day unpacking it. But to suffice it to say, the story changes today. The blessing that God gives in creation back in Genesis 1 is taking a big step forward here.[9] My favorite Old Testament professor, Terence Fretheim writes that, “In and through this family, God’s original intention in creation is to be brought forward in the lives of all.”[10] This is an intention of blessing and promise, and it’s God’s ultimate work for us. An intention of blessing and promise for a relationship, where God is with God’s people, and God promises to be with God’s people because of a deep and abiding love. It’s also an intention and calling to each, and every part of God’s creation, to be a part of God’s work as co-creators and co-workers with God.

Our Participation and Response is Our Stewardship
This is really where stewardship comes in. But before I say why, I should probably explain what I mean by stewardship. And no, it’s not just about money, so for those of you I see who are crossing your arms, thinking I’m about to ask for money. Hahaha… No. I see you, and I am happy to say that stewardship is way more than just about money.

Stewardship starts with an understanding that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s.[11] All of what we have, has been entrusted to our care by God to use, manage, and steward- and I mean all. We’re entrusted with: our lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, and hearts; our ideas, dreams, questions, and stories; our time, talents, gifts, strengths, passions, and vocations; our treasures, money, finances, and assets of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of. God entrusts us with all of this, like God does in the first part of Genesis[12] so that we can be co-creators and co-workers with God, so that we can care for our neighbors, near and far and be bearers of God’s love, grace, and blessing in the world. And God does this also, so that we might live meaningful and abundant lives.

What we do as stewards, we don’t do for ourselves. We don’t do it for our sakes, even. God has already done the hard work for us- through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We could never save ourselves. God does that, for us, as pure grace and gift. And because of that, what we can do is give thanks and then be so caught up in joy and gratitude that we want to be a part of that work and promise of blessing.

Just as Abraham is called by God, so are we. Just as Abraham was “blessed to be a blessing,” so are we. And just as Abraham was called to go, so are we called to go.

Our identity as stewards, which is part of our identity as a Child of God who has been called, created, and is loved by God, flows right from the waters of baptism, and the promises proclaimed through it.

Witnessing the baptism of Allison Marie at Shepherd of the Hills, with many of the congregation’s children down front as well.

When we are baptized like Allison Marie this morning, we receive the same kind of life changing and affirming “Go” from God that Abraham received. A “go” to live among God’s faithful people. A “go” and hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper. A “go” to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through all that we say and do. A “go” to serve all people following the example of Jesus, in the one whom we are baptized. And a “go” to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.[13]

People on the Go
In the Word and waters of baptism, we are called and sent with a “go” in our lives as Children of God, with the promise of abundant life. We are also called into the life of being a steward and disciple. As with Jesus’ “Great Commission” to all of us, we are called and sent to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[14] With that commissioning, and with the “go” we received in baptism, like Abraham received from the Lord in today’s story, we really are a people on the go.

One of the ways that you, as the people of Shepherd of the Hills live this out is through the way you share this space with your surrounding community, and offering signs of Christ’s love and care in so many ministries that you do, including “The Shepherd’s Run” next week. You also do this by gathering like you have this morning to answer the “go” you receive in baptism to live among God’s faithful people, and to hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, and even to send a large group to the ELCA National Youth Gathering this past summer.

Some signs of the many ministries that Shepherd of the Hills is a partner with.

Another way you live this out as a people on the go from your baptisms is through being co-workers with God, helping do God’s work through the larger church, the Nebraska Synod, and the whole ELCA, through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this, THANK YOU for being the generous stewards that you are.

Through your mission share offerings, all of you as Shepherd of the Hills help do ministry that spans the globe, literally changing lives.

Through participating in mission share, you generously respond to the “go” you receive in baptism, doing far more as the church together than could ever be possible for one person or one congregation to do alone. You are really being that blessing to others that you are blessed to be.

Through mission share, you help proclaim the Good News of God in Christ through helping support the raising up and development of young adults, through our serving arms like Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry and Lutheran Campus Ministries, as well as the development and learning of new leaders, pastors, and deacons of our church; and you support missionaries spreading the Good News as well as new ministries here in Nebraska and around the globe.

Checking out the sanctuary well before worship. (Notice the shepherd’s hook on the cross, and the give thanks wreath on the side wall)

Through mission share, you serve all people following the example of Jesus, and you strive for justice and peace in all the world by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, outcast, and refugee, by supporting the work of ELCA World Hunger, our companion synods, and church serving arms like Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Family Services, and Mosaic.

There’s so much more that you are a part of.  Thank you for responding to God’s call to go, as the generous stewards and bearers of God’s love that you are, as the people of God gathered here in Hickman, and as we are all doing God’s work as part of God’s church together. And thank you for continuing to grow as the generous stewards and disciples that you are called and created to be.

Putting it Altogether
We are a people on the Go. Just as Abraham was, and like the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, where we are all sent with a big “Go” from Jesus to baptize and teach, with a reminder that God is most certainly with us and for us always, each and every step of the way. This is a promise that was true for Noah and Abraham before us, and has been true throughout all of God’s story- both written in the books of the Bible as we will continue to be reminded of this year in worship, and as an on-going story throughout history and each of our lives.

Signs of the promises and covenant in baptism.

Like in my own life, where I’m still figuring out what it’s like to be a Deacon, married to a pastor, and together being parents to our beautiful 5-month old daughter Caroline, going through her first ear infections this week. Boy, life is an adventure. Thank goodness God is with us in all of this and everything, just as God is with you– whether you are entering a new stage of life, welcoming a newly baptized Child of God, early in the school year, starting the harvest, staring at or waiting for a diagnosis, or just showing up today. God is with you, and that’s a promise that is always a part of God’s call to “go.”

These promises and this call that was given to Abraham, is given to each of us in baptism. It’s a call to a deep life of stewardship and discipleship. It’s a call to a life of challenge and meaning, and abundant life in God. For this life, all we can do, is answer the call to “go,” give thanks to God for it, and trust the promise that God is with us and for us, leading us and supporting us, and loving us no matter what and who we might discover and encounter along the way. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Genesis 12:1, NRSV.
[2] Genesis 12:2-3, NRSV.
[3] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Genesis 12:1-9,” Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3781.
[4] Genesis 12:2, NRSV.
[5] Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV.
[6] Genesis 12:2, NRSV.
[7] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Genesis 12:1-9.”
[8] Genesis 12:7, NRSV.
[9] Genesis 1:28, to be exact.
[10] Terence Fretheim, Lutheran Study Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), 62.
[11] Based on Psalm 24:1-3.
[12] Based on Genesis 1:27-28.
[13] Adapted from the Affirmation of Baptism in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 236.
[14] Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV.

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