Whether We Like it or Not, God will do God’s thing! Thanks be to God for that! – a Stewardship sermon for Lectionary 21C

Outside of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Beatrice. It might have been a bit gray outside, but it was a lively and wonderful Sunday morning inside.

It was a joy to be with the good people of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Beatrice, Nebraska yesterday on Sunday August 25, 2019. I am grateful for the invitation from Pastor Kathee Forrest, and for the congregation’s warm welcome. In addition to the sermon on stewardship which follows, I was honored to bring greetings on behalf of the whole synod and tell just a snippet about all the ministry we do as the church together in a Temple Talk earlier in the service.

Because of the Road Show we were tasked to take selfies in front of the church signs of where we visited. Clearly my selfie skills failed me here somehow.

Because of this, you will see that my typical greetings and mission share explanations are not present in this sermon. They were covered elsewhere during the visit, which was part of the Nebraska Synod’s first ever Road Show weekend. What a joy! I am looking forward to our next one in October out in the Panhandle.

What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from based on the appointed texts for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost and Lectionary 21C. I primarily focused on Luke 13:10-17, but did allude to Isaiah 58:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8, and Hebrews 12:18-29

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

Again, I’m grateful to be with you today. To dig into this great story about God in Christ showing up and doing God’s thing, whether that fits nicely within our human ideas and rules or not. To think about the healed woman’s response, and the crowd’s reactions. To think how this might inform our understanding of stewardship and our response to all that God does for us, as well as to share a little bit about how our response is lived out through our work as the church together.

Pastor Kathee and me together up front in worship trying to take a selfie as part of the Children’s Sermon.

God in Christ showing up, doing God’s thing
In our gospel story today, Jesus was out teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath.[1] There’s nothing unusual to this. It’s no different than you being here, and worshiping God and thinking and growing as disciples with Pastor Kathee. But what is unusual, perhaps, is that in today’s teaching, someone is going to be healed, literally saved through God’s activity for God’s people. Jesus sees a woman in need, and knows he has to do something. This act of seeing her, perhaps is something she doesn’t experience much. If she has been held down by this spirit and condition for eighteen years, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that the community around her either ignored her as an inconvenience, someone sitting at the corner of the street, so to speak begging for help.

It also wouldn’t be hard to imagine that this woman, who once might have gone about life rather normally, found herself one day afflicted with something she could not seem to find a cure for. With that realization- out of fear, anxiety, and perhaps embarrassment of being ‘different,’ the woman herself might have chosen to hide away out of sight, to just try and make it and live day to day without drawing attention to herself. Whatever the back story, today, Jesus saw her. And her whole life and world was about to be turned upside down in a way that God could only do.

God has done God’s thing, just like in the cross. This is a beautiful cross made by the community of Holy Cross, and hanging on Pastor Kathee’s door.

To this woman who “was bent over” and “unable to stand up straight,” Jesus not only saw her, but called to her, saying, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When Jesus laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.[2] God is showing up today in this story, and in a big way. God in Christ is present, doing what only God can do. Bringing salvation, restoration, and freedom, to a woman likely long forgotten by those around her. And for this act, do you know how this woman responds? She responds like I hope we all do as stewards of God’s love. She responds by giving thanks, “praising God.” Because God has done God’s thing. And it’s fantastic. Thanks be to God.

God will do God’s thing… whether we want God to do so or not
Unless… unless you are so into the rules and the laws, that you think they supersede the call to care for one’s neighbor. At least that’s what the rest of the story suggests. Of course, doing that misses the lesson Jesus has been harping on for his whole ministry and now journey towards Jerusalem with his eyes squarely on the cross to come. The lesson about the summation of the law, that “we are to love God with our whole hearts, minds, bodies, and souls,” and to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”[3] When the law is in right order, that understanding with its roots in the Shema of the Jewish faith, is at the heart of it.

When it’s not, well, we can react like someone who can’t help but find something wrong with Jesus’ act, like the leader of the synagogue in today’s story. This indignant, holy, righteous, and probably a leader wearing a long flowing robe kind of like the alb I have on today kept saying to the crowd who had seen Jesus act, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”[4] Never mind that that the woman who was being healed, didn’t actually ask to be healed in this story. She was just coming like all the faithful to worship and observe the Sabbath. But no. For this leader, the law had become the ultimate expression of God’s will, to the point he refuses to extend grace to this woman. He wants to make an example of her, and discredit Jesus in the process. Well, Jesus doesn’t hold back.

One of the ways that Holy Cross is responding to God’s love and joining in God’s work, is by collecting materials for school kits for Lutheran World Relief, as well as discerning how it can best support its nearby elementary school where the congregation began to meet fifty years ago before building its own building,

When the world’s understanding of the rules is so black and white, that they might say you aren’t to do any work on the Sabbath, especially the work of healing and caring for one’s neighbor, Jesus says, that’s not what the commandments mean at all. No, Jesus will not be turned away. God has acted, and God will act. Because Jesus, shows up and uses his gifts, talents, and all that he is entrusted with to do what God has called him to do. There is a stewardship message in this to be sure which I’ll unpack more in a moment. To this leader of the synagogue and to all those who might try to blame this woman and discredit his ministry and God’s work for God’s people, Jesus sets the record straight. He doesn’t mince words.

“’You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame…”[5] No, God will do God’s thing, God’s work of caring, saving, and restoring, whether we want God to do it, and whether or not it fits in our sense of time, calendar, schedule, or even rules.

The Joyful Response
The woman who was healed, responds to Christ’s work for her, by giving thanks and “praising God.” And as the story today ends, the crowd joins in with her, as “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”[6] This is their joyful response to the Good News and saving work of God who has come near. They share the story about what God is up to, and through that story, more might come to know of God’s promises and saving work for them.

The joyful response, like the whole congregation proclaimed in singing “On our Way Rejoicing” as the closing hymn.

This act of sharing the story, is the response of God’s people who remember the words of the prophet Isaiah who proclaims, “if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness.”[7] In the first lesson, Isaiah reminds us about what it means to be in right relationship with God. That we are to feed the hungry, and satisfy the needs of those who are afflicted; that we are to follow the commandments, and not speak evil about one another. We are invited to see and remember that God is “the repairer of the breach,”[8] the restorer of the woman in today’s gospel story, the repairer of our waterlogged fields and washed out roads from this year’s many floods, and the one who holds all of God’s children and claims them each as God’s own- in all of their beautiful uniqueness, unique perspectives and ideas, viewpoints and philosophies… because they are all, God’s children.

This is the response that the psalmist echoes. When the psalmist reminds us to, “not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit,”[9] and who “works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed,”[10] like the woman restored in today’s story, and all those marginalized in the world all around us. Who society might say are different, or who some might try to call “other,” when really, we’re all sisters and brothers called to see all, and be in relationship with all. And this is the response that even the writer of Hebrews acknowledges, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks…”[11]

Some of the other ways that Holy Cross participates in service and stewardship in its community.

This joyful response in today’s gospel story is a model for our response to the Good News and promises of God, that we each know most clearly through God’s saving work through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension for us. And our response then for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us, is really our stewardship.

Our Stewardship as our Response
Again, it’s a joy to be with you, and also to know that in a way I am getting to serve as the clean-up hitter in your focus of late in worship thinking about stewardship. I think it might be helpful if I add a couple thoughts about what I think stewardship is, in putting all these pieces together.

Stewardship starts with an understanding like as the psalmist puts it, “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”[12] Put another way, that means that all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s. All that we have and all that makes us who we are, has been entrusted to our care by God for us to use, manage, and care for. All is comprehensive and holistic here. That means- we are to steward and care for: our lives, health, bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, presence, talents, vocations, passions, strengths, gifts, stories, ideas, and even questions; our treasure, finances, money, and assets of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of. All of this God entrusts to our care so that we may have life and have it abundantly, but also so that through us, some of God’s work might be done.

All of the kids, who helped me think about this week’s story, Deacons, and more.

That’s even at the heart of the idea of Sabbath, which is in today’s gospel lesson. The idea of Sabbath is borne from God’s generosity. It’s a gift of time, for us to be restored in relationship with God and with each other. It’s a time to recharge, be fed, and sent back out doing God’s work. It’s an act and experience which may run counter to our societal norms in some ways. It’s not about doing nothing, rather it’s about a return to presence. To be present with God, and with one another. And that’s what Jesus shows and does today.

Jesus uses what God has entrusted him with, to care for his neighbor, his sister, a woman whom he sees today come into the midst of the synagogue who most others probably ignored. He sees her. He senses her. And he knows he has been entrusted with something that can meet one of her needs, to heal and restore her back to a fuller sense of self and freedom, and perhaps even, a fuller sense of place in community by drawing attention to her.

Our Response as being Church Together for the Sake of the World
We may not have quite as dramatic a call to stewardship in action in our own lives as Jesus does for this woman, but don’t doubt that God uses yourself to do some of God’s work in the world. I heard about a number of ways that you and your local cluster congregations are doing some of God’s work here around Beatrice yesterday at the Road Show gathering in Adams. From no joke quilting, plastic mat making, adult Bible studies, and supporting Jody in the PMA program…

It always brings me joy to find a congregation’s mission share certificate out for all to see, proclaiming that the congregation is part of the church together.

I know that you all are a part of God’s work here, and that through you, so much good kingdom building work is being done. I know this to be true also, because of how you respond to God’s love for you through being part of the church together for the sake of the world, through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. Mission share is the undesignated offering that your congregation shares with the Nebraska Synod and larger ELCA. Through it, you do the ministry I unpacked in the Temple Talk earlier that spans the globe and changes lives.

There are so many things that you are a part of and that you do through being part of the church together. If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this. Thank you! Thank you for being part of the church together, believing that there’s so much more we can do together as God’s people, than we could ever do alone. Thank you for responding to God’s love for you in so many and various ways, and for sharing that story of our God who loves is, is with us, and is for us- our God who sees us and calls us each by name, claims us, and wants to be in relationship with each of us- Children of God, like the woman in today’s story.

One more sign of stewardship seen at Holy Cross, a banner in the congregation’s fellowship hall.

Summing Up
Jesus shows up today, and a woman is never the same because of it. He may not be playing exactly by the rules as the world might understand them to be, but he is doing exactly what God has called him to do. To use what he has, to do some of the work before him- the work of restoring, saving, and offering life through God’s deep and abiding love and presence. And for that, the woman gives thanks and praise. For that, the crowd rejoiced at all that God in Christ was doing. And for that, we too give our thanks and praise. Thank you, Holy Cross, for responding in all the ways that you do as God’s stewards and disciples here in Beatrice. I pray and trust that that thanks and praise continues to lead us to wonder what God might be up to all around us, and to give us the courage to follow Jesus’ call to see each other, and to be bearers of God’s love for all those in need together. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Luke 13:10.
[2] Luke 13:13, NRSV.
[3] Summarized and repeated in Luke 10:27, but quoting especially Deuteronomy 6.
[4] Luke 13:14, NRSV.
[5] Luke 13:15-17, NRSV.
[6] Luke 13:17, NRSV.
[7] Isaiah 58:9-10, NRSV.
[8] Isaiah 58:12, NRSV.
[9] Psalm 103:2-3, NRSV.
[10] Psalm 103:6, NRSV.
[11] Hebrews 12:28, NRSV.
[12] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.

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