On Our Way Rejoicing, Telling the Story of What God Has Done for Us- a stewardship sermon for Lectionary 12C

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Outside of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Pilger, Nebraska.

It was a joy to be with the good people of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Pilger, Nebraska today (Sunday June 23, 2019). I am grateful for the invitation of Parish Ministry Associate, Deb Hammer and for the congregation’s warm welcome. I was invited to preach on stewardship, and share some about the ministry we are all part of as the Nebraska Synod together. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from, based on the readings appointed by the revised common lectionary for Lectionary 12 (Year C), especially Luke 8:26-39 and Galatians 3:23-29

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

Good Morning St. Peter’s! It’s great to be here with you today. Thank you so much Minister Deb for the invitation and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, and from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I’m grateful to be with you today to dwell some in these rich stories we just read, to wonder about what God might be up to, what God has done and is doing across our synod, and to think some about how we respond to God’s work and promises for us as stewards and disciples of God’s love.

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Inside the beautiful sanctuary of St. Peter’s, all ready in green for growth, learning, discipleship and stewardship that are central themes of the long season after Pentecost, before worship.

God’s Word for Us
We find Jesus today on the other side of the lake, an area that was “largely non-Jewish.”[1] In showing up here, Jesus once again is going and showing that he is not just sent and called to one people, but to all people and communities. Right before this, he was on a boat calming a storm and calming the fears of those with him on the boat.[2]

Today’s story has its fears too. Jesus gets off the boat, and how is he welcomed? No crowds. No joys. But one person with thousands of demons is there. You see, the demons knew exactly who this Jesus was and what he was capable of. They knew so much that the man fell down before him. The demons wanting an honest escape, and the man looking and perhaps beyond hope for healing, restoration, salvation really.

The demons knew this Jesus and didn’t need any introduction. They themselves named him, after all. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”[3] Yes, Jesus had come to do what Jesus does. And Jesus did it. The unclean spirit would leave the man. The man would be restored. The bonds which the demons would break, were broken once and for all. As the bonds of the demonic lost their hold of the man.

It’s interesting in this bizarre story to consider what comes next. In the freeing of the man, Jesus allows the demons their request to enter the swine. Imagine a herd of pigs running down into a lake to drown? It’s kind of like an image of the old fable about the Pied Piper leading the mice over the cliff, or something like that. It doesn’t make much sense. And to all those who might witness it, fear would be the logical reaction. And that’s exactly what the community thought too around this.

I mean on the one hand, the swineherds who went and told all what they saw, had to be perplexed and probably devastated. Their livelihoods depended on the well being of those pigs. Now what are they going to do, since they have just all drowned?

Not a completely different question than the one facing farmers here and across this state in the wake of epic floods and blizzards this year. Not a completely different question than many of you might have faced five years ago as the tornados came through town.

Fear would seem like a natural reaction. But also, like good Nebraskans, the people in this story showed up to see what happened. I have only lived here about three years, but I have become a Nebraskan. What do you do after the rain stops, or the storm passes? You go out and see what has happened. If you’re really Nebraskan, you probably go out in your garage with the door up, and watch the lightning, rain, hail, and even tornado show while it happens. (I’m not that Nebraskan yet, I still usually go to the basement.)

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The rock outside of the church building, a sign of God’s faithfulness- welcomed me to worship today.

Like so, the people in this story came. What they saw was a changed world. The man they had known to be a lost cause in their midst, was sitting at the feet of Jesus like his friend Mary would be while her sister Martha would be busy doing chores and cooking. This man was sitting and worshiping, and growing as a disciple. He was grateful for what God had done. He was in his right mind. He was healed. He was restored. He had his life back. Salvation was indeed at hand.

But when salvation shows up, that means that change has come. And we humans, we’re pretty good about talking about change. Not so good about accepting it when it’s right in front of us, or even worse when it involves or requires us to change. This man who they had known to be possessed, and an outcast confined by his chains, was now an equal. He was no longer separated, but made one with each of them in Christ, kind of like Paul alludes to in his words to the Galatians today. This was too much. The people were afraid. And they asked Jesus to leave because they were overcome and seized by their fears. Too much change. Too much unexplainable. Even if this was a miracle, it was too much.

The man who had been healed, well, we’re not sure what exactly happened to him. Did the community eventually accept him or not? We do know he wanted to go with Jesus. But Jesus had other plans. He sent him away, because this man who was made free, had a call and mission. Jesus sent him out, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”[4] So this man did in fact go on his way rejoicing. He “went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”[5] Thanks be to God.

Living Like the Man- Rejoicing and Living in Hope
This is a story full of Good News. It’s a story that says again that God shows up. That God sees you. That God is for you, and God loves you. This is a story that was true for this man and the community of the Gerasenes, and it’s a story that is just as true today to us. To all of us here in Pilger, five years after the unimaginable destruction. Mere months after the destructive floods. Here, where fields are forever changed, many still covered in sand and debris. Lives changed. Ways of life turned upside down. Questions of what to do next. Questions of how on earth we might rebuild, grow, live, and move on.

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Many of the faithful gathered for fellowship after worship.

This community in today’s story faced these questions. This man in this story lived these questions. They are questions which may well lead to fear. But when we are open to them and honestly pondering them together, we are also inviting God to open us up, to see and sense and wonder. To know that God is with us, and is up to something in, around, and through us. And that might very well be something uncomfortable, certainly something different, and not at all what we might expect. But it’s in these times, where God’s activity and saving work is most real and easy to witness.

This man who was made free, could have decided to go about his life as a free man and never tell the story of what God had done for him. But somehow, I think we all know deep down that would be impossible. After being given such a gift, of God’s saving work for him, this man couldn’t help but share this Good News. This man couldn’t help but tell the story of our God who comes near to us, sees us, knows is, is with us, for us, and deeply loves us, no matter what. By doing this, this man may have understood what discipleship meant even earlier or more than the official disciples themselves. And he certainly understood the importance of story that is at the heart of stewardship.

Where Stewardship Fits In
Before I make you too uncomfortable, rest assured, I see you. I see a couple of you crossing your arms. I think I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking, “oh great, here it comes. This guy is here and is finally going to start talking about money.” It’s the same reaction I get everywhere I visit. And no, I am not actually here to talk about or ask for money. I am here as your partner in ministry to talk about stewardship because stewardship is something big picture and holistic, and it’s not just about money despite what you might have experienced in the past.

Stewardship really begins with a recognition that the psalmist provides. It begins with remembering that, “dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations,” just as God does over the demons in today’s story.[6] This concept of dominion is also a reminder of the promises of provision of God’s abundance, as well as a call for the world to again see, remember, and know God. As God is all around us, active, and up to something. Maybe not quite as dramatic as healing the man in today’s story, but no less important.

In mentioning dominion the psalmist is also repeating the common theme throughout the Psalms, like in psalm 24 where we read, that “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…[7] We are reminded again that all that is, belongs to God. That includes us, and all that makes us who we are, as each the different and unique, beautiful Child of God that we each are. It’s not really ours to begin with. We have been entrusted with all that we have, and all that we are, by God.

God does this, because God loves us. God wants us to live full, meaningful, and abundant lives. This doesn’t mean lives without challenges. There will be challenges, like the man in the story who struggled to be seen and loved in his community, and who likely struggles after being healed to be accepted in that community still. But in entrusting us with all that we have- our lives health, bodies, souls, hearts, and minds; our relationships, time, talents, gifts, strengths, passions, vocations, questions, ideas, dreams, and stories; our money, finances, assets, and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of- God is entrusting us with a means to live as God’s people, and to also live out in response to God’s good news.

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Part of stewardship, is the story of God active and up to something in the world. This story, includes our story which is part of God’s on-going story. This story, includes St. Peter’s as pictured and imagined here in this beautiful painting on the wall of the church’s narthex.

God is entrusting us to share the story of all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us; and to see our neighbors and strangers, like the man in today’s story, and to be bearers of peace, hope, restoration, reconciliation, and justice. As we are all called, empowered, equipped, and sent to be bearers and stewards of God’s love, we are entrusted with the gifts to meet our neighbors’ needs in love, knowing that we are enough to do this work that God calls us to, and we have all that we need to do it with the abundance of God.

Like the man in today’s story, we are freed. We’re freed from the worry about having to wonder if we are enough. We’re also freed from the human worries about what the future might hold. Because God is with us, we are indeed enough. God is active, and God will continue to be moving and doing God’s thing.

The lies the world might have us believe, that there is not enough, that there is scarcity, are sins grounded in fear. They are the sins that divide us, and allow us as people to say that “you’re different than me,” or “I’m better than you.” They are the sins that allow us to create barriers and distinctions, the sins that allow us to build walls and close doors. They are the sins that Paul is railing against in his word to the Galatians today, and they are the sins that Jesus’ saving work is meant to show are wrong.

For where humans might have chained the man who was different than the others in the community, and bound him into the darkness of caves, Jesus comes to him and frees him. He sees him. He loves him. He knows him. Just like Jesus does for us, and Jesus does for all. And we are called to do likewise.

In being freed through Christ, we also remember that this saving work, like in today’s story, is God’s work for God’s people, not our own work. It’s not work we could ever do ourselves, nor work that we could ever earn or deserve. And for that, we can’t help but go out with joy and gratitude. We can’t help but want to share the news of what God has done, and we can’t help but be so moved and caught up in God’s work, that we want to be a part of it in some way to share God’s love in the world.

Ways You are Stewards of God’s Love|
Friends, I know that you understand this and live this out. There is so much that you are part of, and doing as God’s stewards and disciples here in Pilger. And I am grateful for you for all of it. I know that you will be hosting a community picnic on September 8th, a great way to share the feast of welcome which we all are invited to with your neighbors, and to open your doors to the needs, hurts, and hopes all around you here in Pilger.

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A brief handout showing some of the many things that we’re all a part of as the Nebraska Synod together.

I know you are stewards of God’s love, and I want to invite you to take home one of these brochures, which offers a quick sampling of some of the ways that you are doing the ministry as part of the Nebraska Synod of “Growing Disciples, Walking Together, and Serving God’s World.” I also know you’re stewards of God’s love, because of your congregation’s continued participation in mission share.

Mission Share is the undesignated offering that your congregation shares with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA, through which you do ministry that spans the globe, changing lives. Through it you raise up new leaders, pastors, deacons, and parish ministry associates in our church- including two new parish ministry associates you helped raise up, form, and shape here in your faith community, who were just certified to serve at Synod Assembly earlier this month.

Through mission share, you spread the Good News of God’s work and promises, in part through supporting missionaries around the globe and new and renewing ministries across the Big Red State. Through it, you also help grow disciples by helping equip the younger saints of the church know of God’s deep love for them, in part through supporting Lutheran Campus Ministry and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling. And through mission share, you see your neighbors like the man in this story and offer compassion, hope, and a hand up, through the many serving arms of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Lutheran Disaster Response, and Lutheran World Relief. There is so much you are a part of and you do as stewards of God’s love. Thank you!

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Another big part of stewardship is to give thanks and share in the joys of “Alleluia” that we live into, like as depicted in this banner on the walls of the sanctuary.

If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this. Thank you. Thank you for continuing to grow and serve as the stewards and disciples that I know that you are. And thank you for being a part of God’s work in the world together. United in the love of God made known to us through the grace and saving work of God in Christ. United as the Body of Christ together, of which there are no distinctions or barriers- just the common claim that God makes on each and all through the saving and cleansing waters of baptism; and the love God pours out through all of God’s creative, redeeming, sustaining and reconciling work for all of God’s people.

Putting it Altogether
The people in today’s story were afraid. Their world that they had known had changed. They were afraid because someone was healed and they couldn’t or didn’t want to understand it. At the same time, the man in today’s story was so caught up in joy and gratitude, that he couldn’t help but go out on his way rejoicing and telling all that God has done for him. My hope is that each and every one of us, is like that man.

May we be so bold to go out from here, rejoicing, sharing what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do, for us. And may we not only rest in those promises and saving work, may it lead us to continue to live, grow, and serve as God’s stewards and disciples here in Pilger and all where we might go. Though things might be different around us, God is calling us to be present. Not to close ourselves off from the world, but to be out in it. Because that is exactly where God’s work is done. Thanks be to God, for all of God’s work for us, and for all of you, God’s stewards and disciples. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Marion Lloyd Soards, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 112 New Testament.
[2] Luke 8:22-25.
[3] Luke 8:28, NRSV.
[4] Luke 8:39, NRSV.
[5] Luke 8:40, NRSV.
[6] Psalm 22:28, NRSV.
[7] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.

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