It was a joy to be with the good people of First Lutheran Church in Allen, Nebraska and Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord, Nebraska this morning (Sunday May 19, 2019). Thank you so much Pastor Chris Hjelmstad for the invitation to come and visit the congregations and preach on stewardship, and to thanks to both congregations for the warm welcome. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from based on the appointed readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C), especially: Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35, and Acts 11:1-18.
Grace and peace from the Resurrected God in Christ, who loves you, is with you, and is for you. Amen.
Good Morning! It’s great to be with you. Thank you so much Pastor Chris for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, your Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Kristen Van Stee, and from all your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ, who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I am excited to be with you today as together we continue in the joy of the resurrection where everything and everyone is made new, to think some about what God might be saying in today’s stories, and to think about how we respond joyfully to God’s work, promises, and invitation to us as God’s children, stewards, and disciples.
All Things New- promise with change at its core
John of Patmos prophesies about God, proclaiming, “I am making all things new.” This is a promise that sometimes excites, and other times annoys or even terrifies. I mean by its very premise, it’s a promise of change. And we all say we like change, except when it involves us having to change, right? I have been thinking a lot about these words this past week.
You see my wife Allison is a pastor, and together we have our beautiful one year old daughter, Caroline. But our world has changed a bit as just last Sunday, my parents arrived with my brother helping our parents move from their decades long home west of Seattle, to Nebraska. For the time being they are living with us in our basement, as they house hunt. The draw of a grandchild is real. Caroline is their first and only grandchild, and they don’t want to miss a moment.
It is a blessing to have family so close now to us, since until this week, just about all our family lived in Washington state where my wife and I grew up. But this is a big change for all involved. There are times of wondering about what life is going to be like, and some moments of wondering about what could have been if the Holy Spirit hadn’t led Allison and I to the Big Red State, but with these emotions this story in Revelation offers a promise. Though things may be changing, through this change, God is indeed “making all things new.” This is Good News!
Summary of Our Stories This Week
This promise is part of Revelation’s words for us today which are descriptions of God’s promises, activity, and saving work for all of God’s people. “‘The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he 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…I am making all things new…I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.’”
In this beautiful passage, God’s promises are about as clear as they could ever be. God will dwell with us. God claims us as God’s own people. “Death will be no more.” “Mourning, crying, and pain, will be no more.” God is “making all things new.” God will provide “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” And God is the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
These promises accompany God in Christ’s call and commandment we just about always hear on Maundy Thursday, that we hear again today. To the disciples gathered that night around a meal, and to us today Jesus says “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This command is central to our faith. It’s not a works righteousness thing, where if we don’t do this we aren’t God’s. No, it’s rather a command about how we are to live in God’s promises, gifts, and work for us that we could never earn or do ourselves. It’s a command that guides us as we are gathered together, dwelling in God’s word, nourished in the meal and washed in the waters of the sacraments, and then sent out to serve and be part of God’s work and mission in the world. “Love one another” just as God loves us. “Have love for one another.”
It seems so simple. It sounds so simple. But oh, how Jesus knew that it isn’t. As disciples following Jesus, and as stewards of all that God entrusts, it is easy to say that we love, but it’s certainly not always easy to love one another, is it? We all have different perspectives, understandings, positions, values, ideas, locations, family situations, orientations, identities, faith understandings… the list goes on and on.
But these differences aren’t embraced by Jesus, nor offered as exclusions or constitutional amendments. No, Jesus’ command is straight forward. “Love one another as I have loved you.” No exceptions. No limits. God’s love and God’s grace transcends all our human created distinctions, walls, doors, and barriers. That’s the way God’s generosity works. And naturally that will probably make you mad at some point in life. Just like it made some communities mad in today’s story from Acts. But the truth is, in the Body of Christ, God’s love is for all.
As was read in the first lesson, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” All of these are examples of our God at work, through whom all things are being made new.
Friends, God is saying quite a bit in these rich stories this week. But at the heart of them is a call to be in relationship with one another. To be bearers of God’s love to each other, no matter what. To meet people where they are at, and to welcome them. To wonder what God might be up to, like Peter did in the story from Acts, and not to say, “No,” but rather, to take the time to pray, listen and discern what God might be up to and calling us to come and see.
Listening, Discerning, Seeing, and Doing- Living as Stewards
In taking that time, we live out our call as disciples and stewards. We live out our call to follow, but also to lean into God’s promise and all that God entrusts into our care. And that’s where stewardship comes in. I suspect I might be preaching to the choir here though. I understand that you have a stated church council goal of increasing and continuing a focus on stewardship. You probably already know this. But stewardship is way more than just one thing, and it’s way more than just about money.
Stewardship starts with an understanding that as the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 24, “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” which put another way means, all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. God entrusts us with all that we have, for us to use, manage, care for, and steward. God does this for at least two reasons- So that we might live abundant life, and so that we might care for our neighbors, God’s children all around the world. I loved how Pastor Chris put it in your most recent congregational newsletter: “God has gifted the church, and our congregations, with everything necessary to complete the mission God has set before it. We have all God, and our neighbor needs…”
This is true, and it continues to be true. God entrusts us with everything- our lives, health, bodies, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, talent, passions, strengths, gifts, vocations, ideas, questions, imagination, and stories; our treasure, money, finances, and assets of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of. All of this we are entrusted to steward and care for. And as God makes all things new, God entrusts us with all that we need to live abundantly, but also all that we need to respond to the challenges of this world. We just have to choose to use what God entrusts to care for our neighbors, and not turn inward and fall for the lies and sins of scarcity, hoarding these for ourselves, and thinking we don’t have enough, or that we aren’t enough to do what God might be calling us to do.
Your Story, Our Story, all part of God’s On-going Story
First Lutheran, I know that you understand this. Through your bake sale, farmer’s market, noisy offerings, cookies for the community, backpack program, and support of ministry partners near and far, I know that you understand what caring for the world around you looks like as you respond to God’s promises as the stewards you are.
Concordia, I know that you understand this. Through your support and fostering of mentoring relationships, prayers for refugees, and focus and support of ministry and mission across this church; but also through becoming a Reconciling in Christ Congregation, you have taken this week’s stories seriously to love your neighbors no exception, and to welcome all like the story from Acts points to. It’s easy to see and know that you understand what caring for the world around you looks like as you respond to God’s promises as the stewards that you are.
This is part of your story, it’s part of our story, and it’s all part of God’s on-going story as God’s love is shared with the whole world, and through us some of God’s reconciling and redeeming work is done.
I have seen this through you, but also through yours and so many other congregations’ responses to the floods and blizzards that have changed life here in Nebraska this year. In many ways, we are still just starting to come to grips with this new reality- where for some it’s a longer drive around as bridges and roads have been washed out; where for others, it means fields buried in sand, homes washed away or uninhabitable, and very lives and ways of life turned upside down. Yet amid such destruction, I have seen God at work through you and your sisters and brothers near and far through prayer, financial support, and offers of help. It’s going to be a long recovery, but friends, like Pastor Chris reminds, we have everything we need to do this and we will with God’s help.
Another way I know that this is true, and that you respond to God’s promises and work for you is through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. Mission share are the undesignated offerings that you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe and changes lives. Literally through you, things are being made new.
Through your mission share, you help raise up new leaders, pastors, and deacons in our church. Through your participation, you spread the Good News near and far as missionaries are supported around the world, and new and renewing ministries are supported right here across the Big Red State. Through your mission share, youth and young adults are taught and reminded about God’s deep love for them in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry and campus ministry. And through you, you live out God’s command to love your neighbors through supporting, contributing to, and doing the work of God with our hands through our church serving arm partners including Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, and so many more.
If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this. Thank you! Thank you for being the stewards and disciples that I know you are, thank you for bearing God’s limitless love with all those in the world, and for helping make all this amazing and life changing ministry possible.
All Things New Through Christ, and through you (putting it altogether)
God in Christ makes all things new. That’s at the heart of this season of Easter. Through the handing over, the cross, tomb, and resurrection, God does the work that only God could do. We could never do this, nor ever earn this. But through this, we are all promised new life, life which we are washed into and claimed in our baptisms. Life of deep meaning and purpose, though not always easy.
The life of discipleship and stewardship isn’t without challenges, it has a cross at its center after all. But through Christ, all things continue to be made new. Together, God’s love is shared. Together, we bear each other. Together we proclaim through our words and actions what it means to live life on this side of the resurrection as disciples and bearers of God’s love and Good News amid a world of floods and blizzards, and a world of hurt, brokenness, pain, and fear. Together we know what resurrection life is like. New life, hope, and promise. The promise that through God all things are being made new. The promise that was the same that Easter morning that is today that “I have seen the Lord.”
We have seen the Lord, indeed. Together may we proclaim, rest, serve, and be sent in the assurance that: God is with us. God is for us. And God most certainly loves us. Thanks be to God for all of this, and thanks be to God for all of you, God’s stewards and disciples. Amen.
Citations and References:
 Based on Revelation 21:5, NRSV.
 Revelation 21:5, NRSV.
 Revelation 21:3-6, NRSV.
 From John 13:34-35, NRSV.
 Acts 11:17, NRSV.
 Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
 Chris Hjelmstad, “From Pastor Chris’ Desk,” May 2019. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/1a3591_591ae1ad1f5240679d24483092a19400.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3LULESz3YNXmKhyjqsYtJtS5YutYMWkfdzMRE-E4r2eukljdDjRX2YWIU.