I Know that My Redeemer Lives! – a Stewardship sermon for Lectionary 32C/Pentecost 22C

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Alma Lutheran Church in Mead, Nebraska on a beautiful fall morning with a wonderful sign greeting my arrival, “Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart.”

It was a joy to be with the good people of Alma Lutheran Church in Mead, Nebraska on Sunday November 10, 2019. Thank you to Pastor Quinlan Koch and Alma’s Stewardship Committee for the invitation, and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. I had the privilege of leading worship, preaching, and leading the Children’s Sermon too. The manuscript of what I largely preached from is as follows, based on the appointed readings for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 32 (Year C): Luke 20:27-38; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Psalm 17:1-9; and Job 19:23-27a. Below is the Facebook live video from worship posted on Alma’s Facebook page too.

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

Good morning Alma Lutheran. It’s great to be back with you today. It’s a been a couple years since my last visit, and I’m grateful to be back. Thank you to Pastor Quinlan for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings this morning from Bishop Brian Maas, your Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton Focken who I know was just with you a few weeks ago for the joyful day of installing your pastor. And I also bring greetings today from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod.

I’m excited to be with you and to dwell in our stories this week and wonder about what God might be calling us to see. To think about stewardship, what it is, and how we are called, empowered, and entrusted with what we have, and how we can’t help but respond joyfully and gratefully for all of God’s work and promises for us. And to share some about how I see and know that each of you, as the stewards and disciples you are, respond through your faithful stewardship.

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The beautiful sanctuary of Alma Lutheran Church before worship.

Digging into this Week’s Stories- Jesus on being a Child of God
Now this week’s gospel story isn’t the easiest one to dig into at all. And it might sound a little out of place, given we have been in the familiar readings from Reformation a couple weeks ago, and with Jesus back in his sermon on the Plain with the blessings and woes last week for All Saints. But today, we find ourselves after the events of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday so long ago.

Jesus has been teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem telling more parables and stories, answering questions of those trying to entrap him. Pointing yet more urgently to the Kingdom of God breaking in now, but also yet to come. He’s already turned over the tables and the “priests, scribes, and leaders of the people,” continue to look for ways to kill Jesus.[1] He’s teaching during the day in the Temple, and spending the nights at the Mount of Olives. And we are mere hours now, before the passion events begin with that famous Passover meal and Judas’ betrayal.

So to the Sadducees, who confront Jesus this week about marriage, which was really a cover about their deeper theological issues with the whole idea of resurrection, Jesus turns them around as he often does when faced with attempts to entrap him. Instead of answering their question directly, he talks more about their identity, those in the hypothetical marriage question, but also the identity of all Children of God. Jesus says, “they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”[2]

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The Body of Christ at Alma Lutheran, a mosaic made of photos of the disciples gathered at Alma.

Jesus turns the question around and uses it to point yet again to who God is and whose we are. To be a child of God, is to be a child of the resurrection promise. A promise that for Jesus was beginning to feel intimately real, mere days away from the events of the cross and tomb to come. To be a child of the resurrection, is to be an heir of the promise of good news. One which when we lean into, leads into a life of growing discipleship and stewardship.

But Jesus isn’t done. He keeps going to connect his response to God’s on-going story that God’s people have been a part of since the beginning acts of the garden in creation. Jesus explains, “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”[3] To this some of the scribes said that Jesus had spoken well, and didn’t dare to question him anymore.[4]

Jesus is pointing to another truth about God here. God is a God of the living. God is a God of life. And when we think about all the lessons that Jesus has been pointing to, knowing what is to come and God’s work through turning death into life, we know that not only is our God a God of life, but God is a God of life abundant, with all of the joy, hope, meaning, and purpose that comes with it.

The Other Stories about God’s Work and Promises for Us
We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story that those in today’s gospel story don’t know. They don’t yet fully know what is to come. Jesus has been telling them, but they can’t quite imagine or comprehend it. But through Jesus the prophets’ and psalmist’s words will be fulfilled.

Job offers a reminder of the hope and promise of the resurrection. He proclaims, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and…I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”[5] “For I know that my redeemer lives…” Resurrection is real. To answer the Sadducees’ real question, God does the work of bringing life out of death. Of turning the darkest moments of fear and despair into moments of hope and new beginnings. Of turning the cold of winter, into the blooming spring to come.

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A beautiful quilt found on the walls of Alma Lutheran, quoting Isaiah 11:6.

The psalmist echoes Job, recounting God’s saving work for God’s people. We hear these words, “I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.”[6] The psalmist reminds of who God is and what God does. This recounting of some of God’s saving work points to the story of God, a story we give thanks and praise for and lean into in our lives as stewards and disciples.

Lives like that of the Apostle Paul who points to God’s work, and brings us back into the story. He gives thanks for the Thessalonians, just as I imagine he would be giving thanks for all of you gathered here today. He explains, “we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation…”[7] Paul is grateful for God’s people, because they are doing the work to which God has called them. Proclaiming the good news of God through word and deed. Living into the Spirit’s life in them, a life we all live as baptized Children of God, marked, sealed, and claimed by God. Not just for ourselves, but for all of God’s creation.

Paul is pointing in his letter here to more examples of God’s work for God’s people. The work that through grace, provides hope. The work that provides life and life abundant. The work that comes through and in fulfillment of the good news that was proclaimed to us, and for us, through us, and in us. And for that we can’t help but give thanks to God.

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The stewardship committee serving coffee and danishes after worship at Alma Lutheran.

Stewardship as our Joyful and Grateful Response
I wonder, what might our thanks and praise look like? What might it lead to? The answer to these questions point to how your life as a steward may be going. Because stewardship is about remembering whose we are, God’s, and who we are, God’s beloved children. Who through baptism, God made promises, promises were made for us, and we made promises or later affirmed them in life. Promises like we will “live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people, following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”[8] Promises like Paul thanks the Thessalonians for making, and living out.

In remembering all that God does for us, and promises to do for us, do we lean into our baptismal calling? Do we remember all that God in Christ has done for us that we could never earn or do ourselves? And when we do, are we overcome with joy and gratitude for this precious grace and gift? If not, I would wonder why not? But if so, then I think that paints the picture of what stewardship is. It’s a big thing. It’s grounded in those baptismal promises, but also in recognizing that as the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”[9] Put another way, all that we have and all that we are is God’s.

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A fitting reminder of giving thanks seen inside the church.

God has entrusted into our care all that we have and all that we are, for us to use, manage, and care for. God entrusts us with our: lives, health, bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, talents, strengths, passions, vocations, ideas, presence, dreams, stories, and questions; our money, assets, finances, and treasure of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of.

God entrusts us with all of this and so much more so that we might live life, clinging with open arms to the gift of abundant life, given in the one who gave himself for us, but also so that through us, some of God’s work in the world might be done.

What God entrusts is not just for us. That’s why Paul says today that we are the “first fruits,” which calls God’s people to remember the promises that were made out in the wilderness as God’s people Israel wandered on their way to the promised land. We’re to return a portion of what God gives and entrusts back to God.[10] To tithe, if you will, because it’s not ours to begin with, it’s all God’s. And through that which we return to God, some of God’s kingdom building work is done. Through all that God entrusts to us, some of God’s work of meeting our neighbors’ needs is done.

Stewardship really is a wonderful thing. And no, as some of you might expect, it’s not just about money. It’s about our whole lives, and living our lives fully as who God calls us to be, and in growing and living as the disciples and stewards we are called and created to be. To be bearers of God’s deep love for all of God’s world. which God loves so much.

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The Sunday Schoolers practicing downstairs before worship for Christmas music and programs to come, sounding beautiful and telling God’s story in song.

Your Stewardship in Action
Friends, I know that deep down, you get this. You are descendants and heirs of these promises and truths. Here in this faith community, you are part of a legacy of ministry that is 150 years in the making. A legacy which I know is full of deep stories of God’s love in the world. Deep stories of the ways you have seen God showing up in your midst, and taking the bold discipleship moves to listen to what God might be calling, and having the courage to follow that call. I am sure you all could point to countless stories of God at work in, around, through, and for you.

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A certificate reminding Alma Lutheran of its great missional history, as it helped found Bethlehem Lutheran in Wahoo.

Stories like how I know you are sharing God’s love and warmth with your neighbors near and far through the love stitched into 28 quilts and in assembling 28 school kits which you have sent to Lutheran World Relief that will be shared with your sisters and brothers in need as signs of God’s love. Stories like how you also provided 2 quilts to the VFW Christmas Drive, doing more good in your local community. Stories of how you open your doors here to meet the needs of your neighbors in Mead, and how you partner with your friends in Malmo and Wahoo, including sharing an upcoming Thanksgiving worship service together, as you will give thanks together to God for all that God provides.

One of my great joys in being with you today, is also to remind you of how you are part of the church together. Through your stewardship grounded in your identity as a baptized Child of God, and lived out joyfully and gratefully in response to the truth of our story that our redeemer lives, you do ministry that spans the globe and changes lives.

You do this especially in part through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. Mission share is the undesignated offering that you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA.

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Another beautiful look inside the sanctuary.

Through your mission share, you raise up new leaders, pastors, and deacons of our church, like your new Pastor Quinlan. Through it, you help the younger Children of God in the world know of God’s deep love for them, in part through supporting the good ministry of Lutheran Campus Ministry and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling. Through mission share, you spread the Good News like Paul thanked the Thessalonians for, through sending missionaries around the globe and supporting new and renewing ministries right here all across the Big Red State. And through it, you see your neighbors and grow into relationship with them, walking with them on the way in this life together, in part through our church serving arm partners including Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Disaster Response, just to name a few.

You do so much. If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this. On behalf of your sisters and brothers across this whole state and around the globe, Thank you! Thank you for all that you do as the stewards and disciples you are. I have no greater joy in my call as your partner in ministry for stewardship than to remind you of all that you are already doing and to say thank you for it, and to invite you to wonder about what God might be calling you toward next.

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Another beautiful look at Alma Lutheran outside before worship.

Putting It Altogether
What might God be calling you to be a part of next? In what ways might God be inviting you to open your doors to your neighbors near and far? And in what ways might God be sending you out from worship here today, to meet your neighbors where they are at, and through your work and presence God’s work and gift of life giving love is being done?

Whatever it might be, may you do it fully in the trust and assurance of the hope and promise that we know together, that our redeemer lives! That resurrection is real. And that our God is for us, with us, and loves us. No matter what. When we remember this, no matter what life might throw our way- weather challenges, health scares, fears and anxieties about changes and problems that seem outside of our control, uncertainty about the harvest and getting the fields planted next year… God is alive and with us. And we are God’s- living heirs of the promise, the first fruits of God’s work, and bearers of God’s love in the world through all that we do and share as God’s stewards and disciples. Thanks be to God, and thanks be to God for all of you doing some of God’s work here in Mead. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Luke 19:47-48.
[2] Luke 20:36, NRSV.
[3] Luke 20:37-38, NRSV.
[4] Luke 20:39-40.
[5] Job 19:25-27, NRSV.
[6] Psalm 17:6-7, NRSV.
[7] 2 Thessalonians 2:13, NRSV.
[8] As found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 236.
[9] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
[10] As explained in Deuteronomy 26:1-2, and really through the entirety of Deuteronomy 26. (A reading we often might hear appointed in the pericope and liturgy at Thanksgiving.)

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