“For All the Saints and Stewards”- a stewardship sermon for All Saints Sunday

American Lutheran Church in Adams, Nebraska.

I had the privilege of being with the good people of American Lutheran Church in Adams, Nebraska this morning for All Saints Sunday, thanks to the invitation of friend and pastor Rev. Nathan Metzger. It was the congregation’s mission festival, and as part of that they invited me to preach, and had a potluck after worship. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from based on the appointed readings for All Saints Sunday (Revised Common Lectionary- Year B). 

Grace and peace from the Risen Christ, who loves is, is with us, and is for us. Amen.

Good Morning American Lutheran! It is great to be with you on this All Saints Sunday. Thank you so much Pastor Nathan for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome and for the wonderful potluck feast to come today too. I bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Brian Maas, 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 grateful to be with you as part of your mission festival today, to think some about the breadth of stewardship, and to dwell some in these All Saints stories of resurrection and new life that God in Christ offers abundantly.

God’s Promises of Life for Us
The stories we heard today are stories of life, and stories of God’s saving work and promises for all of God’s people. The prophet Isaiah beautifully and deeply declares that God will “swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people God will take away from all the earth.”[1] Isaiah is speaking of the promises that we cling to especially on this All Saints Sunday. The promise of restoration. The promise of life in the face of death. The promise and hope of the resurrection.

God’s promises of life as reflected in this “Tree of Life” and “Alpha and Omega” stained glass window at American.

These promises are even clearer in our second lesson from Revelation. This passage, so famous and often quoted in funerals is the epitome of good news and recitation of God’s promises and saving work. “‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”[2]

God will wipe every tear away. Death will be no more. All things will be made new. This is God’s work. This is the work of the cross and the resurrection. This is the work that only God could ever do. These are promises of God for God’s beloved. This is what God does, bringing life out of death. Turning the world and its expectations on their head, beating death at its own game, once and for all. And this is at the heart of the festival that is All Saints.

The Psalmist’s Teaching on Stewardship
We’ll get to the gospel story in a moment. But I want us to first turn to Psalm 24. Our psalm for today begins perhaps with the most important biblical articulation there is about stewardship. The psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for the Lord has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.”[3]

Again, “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…” Understanding this is essential for stewardship, because when framed this way, we remember that all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s. All that we have been entrusted with that makes us who we are, is in fact, God’s.

Some of the younger saints sharing in their “Noisy Offering,” as stewards and saints.

That’s pretty profound. So, what might this mean? It means that all of us, all that makes us who we are, is God’s. So, all that we are entrusted with, comes from God whom entrusts us with it so that we might live abundantly, and serve our neighbors whom God calls us into relationship with. We’re entrusted with: our lives, health, bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, talents, gifts, strengths, passions, vocations, ideas, questions, and stories; our treasure, money, finances, and assets of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we’re a part of.

All means all. When we start here, it shifts our understanding of how God might be active in the world, and calling us to come and see, and be a part of God’s kingdom building work for the sake of the world that God loves. All that we are entrusted with, God entrusts to us to manage, care for, use, and steward to live full abundant lives, and to meet our neighbors’ needs near and far as God’s hands and feet in the world.

The psalmist moves on from this understanding of stewardship to tackling the question of “Who is the King of Glory?” And the answer to that question, is at the heart of our story, a deep part of our stewardship and the explanation of why we do what we do, as God’s stewards and disciples.

The Raising of Lazarus- a story for All Saints
This King of Glory, is the one whom we know so well. The one whom in today’s story from the Gospel of John raises Lazarus- a man all thought was dead, so much so that he was bound in grave clothes and smelling of death. The one whom cared so deeply for Lazarus, that God in Christ actually wept. Think about that. Jesus wept.[4] This is how much God loves him, and it’s how much God loves and cares about you and all of God’s children. God sees us, knows us, and cares deeply for each of us.

As the story goes, “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ But Martha said, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ But Jesus pushed back, saying, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone.”[5]

The beautiful sanctuary of American Lutheran before worship, all ready for All Saints Sunday.

This is going to be a special day. God is at work, just as God is at work for all of God’s people, offering resurrection and life abundant, for all God’s saints.

Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”[6] What an image. Only God could do this, and God does this. It’s yet another example of God’s promise and story. One where God with hands and arms out stretched for us as God would do once and for all on the cross, God in Christ offers life. As stewards this is a story of God for us- of what God will do for us, and thanks be to God for that.

It’s a story that I imagine hits home today for many of us. On this day of the church year, we have the joy and sorrow of remembering the saints who have departed us in the past year, and who have gone before us as part of that great cloud of witnesses. We also can remember the new saints, the newly baptized this past year, new members and parts of our faith community- marked, sealed, and claimed Children of God like us, simultaneously saint and sinner.

A Story about my Grandpas
This All Saints, I am remembering both of my grandpas. They claimed their baptismal promise and joined the heavenly banquet table, eleven and twelve years ago this month, right before Thanksgiving.

In some ways it always makes November harder for me, but also richer. Because I am grateful for the lessons they taught me, the love they showed me, and the legacy that I know I am part of, because of them. In some ways, my understanding of stewardship has its roots in the way I saw and experienced life through my relationships with my grandpas. Maybe you might relate?

From one grandpa who was a ship architect in the Seattle area, I developed a love of jazz that continues to influence my playing when sitting down behind the keys on the piano. From my other grandpa a Lutheran pastor, I received a great deal of support in discernment towards ministry, but also the freedom to know, that despite when other people might have seen me as the “pastor’s grandkid” and “music minister’s son,” who would certainly be a pastor someday, to my grandpa I was my own person and definitely did not need to be ordained to do ministry and serve in my vocations. It may not sound like it, but that might have been the most freeing thing. So here I am, all these years later, as a deacon. Doing ministry, but perhaps a bit differently and in a slightly different role than my grandpa.

Some of the younger saints of American Lutheran gathered with Pastor Nathan for the Children’s Sermon.

Both of these grandpas shared their love and pride of their grandkids. Looking back, I know how lucky I am to have been able to get to know them and be around them through the majority of my college years.

I am thinking about them this year too, because of my wife Allison’s and my daughter Caroline, who is seven months old today. As much joy as we take in being new parents to our smiling and wonderful daughter, it’s also fun to watch our parents, first time grandparents figure out what being a grandma and grandpa is like. There’s so much joy in that. So much wisdom that will be shared in those relationships, ways of being grandparents learned by their own parents, but also new ways that they will discover. But most of all, so much love that comes from being together.

Being Together- Our Joyful Response as Church
On this festival day, we remember that in the water and through the bread and wine, God is present in the ordinary doing the extraordinary with God’s Word and power. We remember that we are connected around this table with all those who have gone before us, and will come after us, in God’s deep and abiding love. We celebrate that we are gathered together with all the saints as the People of God and Christ’s church.

Our gathering and life together, our serving and discipleship, are ways we steward that which God entrusts to us. And by being together, not just as this congregation here in Adams, but as part of the Nebraska Synod, and the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we are part of a church that is much larger than any one of us doing God’s work near and far around the world in ways that would never be possible to do as one person or one congregation.

Our stewardship is really our life together, and our joyful response to all of the promises and work of God that we celebrate, tell of, and affirm today. It’s borne out in the mission of God, a mission that calls together this congregation as part of the whole church, not just gathering us here inside this beautiful sanctuary, but one that sends us out like Christ’s outstretched arms here in Adams for all in need, and for all out into the world, as stewards and bearers of God’s love. On this mission festival Sunday, American Lutheran, please hear me say this loud and clearly, thank you! Thank you for being the generous community of the saints and stewards of God’s love that you are gathered here.

Some of the many ministries that American Lutheran is a part of.

One of the ways I know that this is true is through your recent support of a Young Adult in Global Mission to Madagascar.  Another is through your continued participation and life as church together in mission share. Mission Share are your offerings that you share with the Nebraska Synod and larger ELCA, through which you do ministry that spans the globe changing lives. Through mission share you join in the legacy of the saints who have gone before you in this church through helping develop and grow new leaders, pastors, and deacons. Through it, you also help raise up and develop young adults through our church serving arms like Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry and Lutheran Campus Ministries.

Through mission share, you follow in the footsteps of our forebears who started this church as missionaries of sorts, supporting missionaries spreading the Good News as well as new ministries here in Nebraska and around the globe. Through it, you are bearers of God’s love for all people- caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, outcast, and refugee, by supporting the work of ELCA World Hunger, our companion synods, and 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 all that you do, and thank you all, the saints of God gathered here in Adams, for continuing to grow and serve as the generous stewards that you are called and created to be.

Putting it Altogether
For those we celebrate and give thanks for who have gone before us, for all of us simultaneously saint and sinner, we remember that in God in Christ we are all part of the One Body, part of the community of saints that have gone before us, that gather with us now, and will come after us. We celebrate and remember that all of us are indeed God’s church together, and that is a stewardship story to tell- a story of legacy of those who have gone before us, and the on-going work of God in the world in, around, and through us, and most certainly for us.

The Christ Candle and baptismal fount- important reminders of God’s promise on this All Saints Sunday.

God in Christ raises Lazarus today, just as God has said that death will be swallowed up, and be no more. Through the ugliness and brokenness of a symbol of death, a cross, God turns the world on its head, and declares once and for all, that death will not be the last word. In its place will be life- an abundant life of resurrection.

This life won’t always be easy, and as the saints who have gone before us could attest, it will be one with ups and downs and challenges. But it is a most meaningful life. And it’s one which God walks with us through, calling us forward, serving those in need around us through all that God entrusts to us, and a life in which God is there to catch us when we fall, to cry and weep with us in the times of sorrow, and to dance for joy with us in our gratitude for all of this that God has done and promises to do for us. Thanks be to God for all of this, and thanks be to God for all of you God’s saints and stewards. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Isaiah 25:8, NRSV.
[2] Revelation 21:4-6, NRSV.
[3] Psalm 24:1-2, NRSV.
[4] John 11:35, NRSV.
[5] John 11:39-41, NRSV.
[6] John 11:43-44, NRSV.

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