I had the great privilege to be with the good people of First Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday October 5 and Sunday October 6, 2019. Thank you to Pastor Dan Warnes for the invitation, and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. It was a great Saturday evening and Sunday morning as part of the congregation’s consecration Sunday, with the theme for the year being “Discipleship is Stewardship.” This culminated after worship on Sunday with a Stewardship BBQ Dinner and video presentation. What follows is the majority of my manuscript that I preached from, based on Luke 17:5-10.
Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and loves you. Amen.
Good morning First Lutheran! It’s so great to be with you. Thank you so much Pastor Dan, Pastor Justin and Deacon Sunni for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings today from someone I know you probably know well, Bishop Brian Maas; from a long ago intern pastor, Pastor Juliet Hampton; from your Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Megan Morrow, and from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ, who with you are the Nebraska Synod.
I’m excited and grateful to be with you today, to celebrate the culmination of your stewardship focus on this wonderful Consecration Sunday all about how “Discipleship is Stewardship,” to dig into today’s story a bit, share some thoughts about stewardship, and some gratitude for all of the ministry that you do and that you are a part of as the whole church together.
This Week’s Story
Jesus has been telling parable after parable, and today Jesus continues that when confronted by the apostles who told the Lord, “Increase our faith!” That’s kind of a bold declaration, don’t you think? Jesus could have gone all theological and said, “well, faith is a gift,” which as Lutherans we would probably argue. But Jesus decides to do what he does. He uses an object and turns it into a lesson. He points to a mustard seed, and a mulberry tree. Contextually, sure these might be relatable to the apostles. For us, perhaps Jesus might have pointed to corn, soybeans, or maybe even the windmills like the ones I see as I drive south into Lincoln coming down side streets from Highway 77 to First Lutheran from Fremont.
A mustard seed is about as small as a seed gets, and a mulberry tree is no small thing to be uprooted. Perhaps Jesus in saying all this, is trying to help his friends, make sense of all the parables he has been telling them. Story after story, have been examples about what a life of faith might look like, but even more so, really, about what might the Kingdom of God be, look like, and feel like.
In that kingdom, everyone has a seat at the table. There is no distinction between the haves and have nots, like Lazarus and the Rich Man from last week’s story. There is no chasm between people. All Children of God are together. But that of course is not possible by us alone. No, we couldn’t make that happen. That would be God’s work. But as you know from your stewardship theme, as discipleship is stewardship, God uses us to do some of God’s work in the world.
The story today keeps going. Jesus points to the dichotomy of slave and master. A slave, one who is enslaved, is the victim of a sinful human created structure. Slavery is evil. Though Jesus doesn’t make it as explicit here today. By pointing to this though, he is opening the door for us to wonder about this dichotomy, and how it points to an issue of justice. For in God, there will be freedom and justice for the slave and oppressed. The human created distinctions and barriers will pass away. Paul’s words from Galatians ring in my ears with this story, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus, is calling us to repent, and reorient ourselves yet again, to God and with God and to and with one another. To turn from our inward focus on ourselves, outward to see God and all the people God calls us into relationship with. Let’s go back to the story, to the last verse we read. Jesus says, “when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
“We have done only what we ought to have done!” That might be the most honest stewardship slogan there ever was. God does the hard work, and invites us to come and receive it. It’s a gift, this life that God in Christ offers. We could never earn or deserve it. It’s pure grace of course. When the disciples tell Jesus to increase their faith, perhaps they still have missed what God is doing and has been doing all around them and through them? What we do in our lives is just as God calls us to in those promises God makes to us, and we make and affirm in our baptisms.
The work we have, the vocations we have, the relationships we have- we have been called to. It’s all meaningful and has a purpose. And that is made all the more real because we know who it is who has called and equipped us for this- God in Christ, the one who lived, died, and was resurrected for us. The one who offers life abundantly for us, who calls us to take hold of it, and the one who calls us to “guard the good treasure entrusted to us with the help of the Holy Spirit…”
Discipleship is Stewardship
That good treasure that we heard in our second lesson from 2nd Timothy, might well be the truth and story of God’s love and promises for God’s people. It’s the treasure which grounds us, guides us, and points to God’s presence with us and deep love for us. God entrusts us with this treasure, just as God entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are.
There’s a misconception out there that the church has not done a good job over the years of correcting. That is, that stewardship is about making sure there’s enough money to meet the budget, and enough volunteers to do the job. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s got the priorities and order completely wrong.
As your theme has been repeating, Discipleship is Stewardship! Stewardship is about joining in with God’s work, following God’s invitation and call to each of us to come and see that the Lord is good, to grab ahold of God’s gift of abundant life; and be so overjoyed about what God does for us, that we can’t help but give our thanks and praise and want to share that good treasure of all that God does and entrusts with the world. That’s where stewardship comes in.
It’s a big thing. It’s all encompassing. God entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are- which means our lives, health, bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, talents, presence, gifts, strengths, passions, dreams, ideas, and questions; our money, finances, assets, and treasure of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and that we are a part of. Looking around, and knowing a little about you friends, you may not always remember this, but intuitively, you know this. There’s so much that you do with what God entrusts to you. And I’m excited to see where God might be leading you in the year ahead.
Whether it be through accepting the challenge that you have been given to increase your giving and engagement 2% this next year, or through looking at every aspect of your life and faithfully committing to your discipleship plan, you are invited to see that God is already very much active and up to something through you, for you, and all around you. You have heard these great stories this past month from your sisters and brothers here. I got a glimpse of some them. They are so powerful! Thank you for sharing your stories.
The Right Word might be “Wow”
One of the things you may not know about me, is that though I am a Deacon like Deacon Sunni Richardson, I am also married to a pastor. Allison and I are grateful to be partners in ministry here in Nebraska, as Allison serves at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, and we’re overjoyed to be parents of our 18-month old daughter Caroline. She’s at the stage where she is walking, running, and climbing everywhere, running into things, and finding every thing. Nothing is safe. But she’s also at the stage where she can say words and expressions. And right now, her favorite seems to be saying, “WOW!”
I am thinking about her sense of awe. “Wow,” might be the absolute perfect word for stewardship. What else can we say when witnessing what God has done for us? What else could you say if you saw a mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea? Or, what else could I say when witnessing all the ministry that you do and you make possible as the stewards and disciples that you are? Wow!
As one of my friends put it about you, she says, “First Lutheran, you are a leader, and you have no idea how much awesome ministry you are doing. You know some of it, but you do so much! You may not even realize all that you do really.” Though we have 245 congregations in this synod, there is only one First Lutheran in Lincoln. You are leading by example through your faithful partnership and prayerful support of your sisters and brothers of the Faith United Parish in Niobrara as they continue to recover and rebuild after the floods from earlier this year. You’re walking with your neighbors to the north. Your important work toward welcome, inclusion, accessibility, and hospitality with your building project… Your ministry and discipleship building through Faith Trek, and all the ways that you serve your neighbor… For this and for all that you do, on behalf of a grateful church, and more so, on behalf of your sisters and brothers all around the globe, I am overjoyed to say, THANK YOU!
As the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, part of my joy in visiting you today is the opportunity is also to say a big thank you for your congregation’s continued example and leadership in its participation in mission share. Mission share is your undesignated offering that you share with the Nebraska Synod and larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe, changing lives.
Whether it be through supporting and raising up new leaders in the faith; through supporting the younger saints in the faith to know of God’s deep love for them through our partnership with Lutheran Campus Ministry and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry; through supporting and sending missionaries around the globe and making new and renewing ministries possible all across this Big Red State; and through meeting your neighbors where they are at through the good work of our church serving arms like Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief, Mosaic, just to name a few, your mission share participation and leadership does so much in the world. Thank you!
Putting it Altogether- signs of the in breaking of the Kingdom
“Wow” might be the perfect word to sum it all up. And that fits so well with Jesus’ teaching today. In responding to the disciples’ plea to have their faith increased, Jesus tries to wake us all up, to see God, and to see each other. God is active and up to something in the world. Something new is happening through God’s work in Christ in this story and life we know in the gospel, but also through, for, and around all of you.
With God, faith can grow like a mustard seed. With God, the craziest of things, like a mulberry tree moving and planting itself in the sea, is possible. Or like one dying on a cross, only to be raised three days later. And with God, it is possible to envision a table where as Jesus alludes to today, slave and master have equal share of the feast, both freed in Christ and equal Children of God, sisters and brothers together.
That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like. And that’s exactly the kind of world God dreams of, and calls us to help prepare as the kingdom is now and not yet, breaking in just a bit each day through the work of God’s beloved children, disciples, stewards, and heirs of God’s love and promises, including all of you.
Thanks be to God for the gifts of the kingdom and the hope and promise of new life! And thanks be to God for all of you- the disciples and stewards you are: living, growing, and serving, with a faith much larger than a mustard seed. Amen.
Citations and References:
 Luke 17:5, NRSV.
 Luke 17:6.
 Galatians 3:28, NRSV.
 Luke 17:10, NRSV.
 Like in the Second Lesson last week from 1 Timothy 6:12.
 From this week’s second lesson, 2 Timothy 1:14, NRSV.