Lives of Discipleship and Stewardship Aren’t Always Easy, But They Matter! – a Stewardship sermon for Lectionary 33C/Pentecost 23C

Outside of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Omaha.

It was a joy to be with the good people of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska this morning (Sunday November 17, 2019). Thank you so much Pastor Carm Aderman for the invitation and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. I was invited to come and preach on stewardship and lead an adult forum conversation between worship services. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from based on Luke 21:1-19, and the appointed readings for Lectionary 33C.

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

Good morning Luther Memorial. It’s so great to be back with you again today. Thank you Pastor Carm for the invitation and to all of you for the warm welcome again. Like I did the last time I was with you this summer, I bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas and your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Juliet Focken, as well as 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 in this week’s story and wonder what God might be saying and up to, to think about our lives as stewards and disciples and how they may not always be easy but are deeply meaningful, and to share some thoughts and gratitude for all that you do and that you are part of as being part of the church together.

God’s Story this Week- Discipleship and Stewardship as Sacrifice
Our gospel story this week comes shortly after the story we dwelled in last week. Jesus is still in the temple teaching in the days after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem that famous Palm Sunday, though we are even closer now to the events of the passion to come. The urgency in Jesus’ teaching is palpable. He knows what is to come, and he wants the ones he loves so dearly to see even more clearly what their lives as disciples will look like and mean, the changes that will come with God breaking into the world, with God’s kingdom coming into being now and not yet. But he is also trying to open their eyes to see what it’s like, amid the uncertainty, fear, and challenges of life to know that God is with you.

The beautiful altar area in front of the sanctuary of Luther Memorial.

He starts with an observation. Jesus looked up and saw some rich people putting their gifts into the treasury, and then also a poor widow who put her two small copper coins in.[1] To this he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”[2] The life of being a steward isn’t always easy. There is sacrifice involved, like this widow demonstrated. A person reliant on others to care for her, because in her society she would not have been able to take care of herself.

She would have been marginalized with the death of her husband, destitute. Perhaps not even seen by society. But Jesus, like Jesus saw the little tax collector in the tree, the woman at the well, and so many others, sees her. And Jesus is amazed. Her stewardship and giving is an act of trust. It’s an act of sacrifice, but it’s also an act of discipleship. Why would she give her widow’s mite? Likely all she had to live on? Perhaps her great joy, trust, and gratitude for God was why. And if so, then oh what a steward and disciple this widow really is. One for whom life would certainly have been hard. But even so, she did what she could to help do some of God’s work in the world, and support it through what God had first entrusted to her care.

The challenges of being a disciple and following the call
From this observation, Jesus continues teaching by talking about the temple and the destruction of it to come. He continues to teach about changes and challenges and end-times, and the hard road ahead for being a follower of Jesus, living the discipleship life. In looking at the temple, Jesus warns that no stone will be left on stone.[3] The creations and buildings of human beings are finite, not infinite. What we create won’t last forever. But even more so, Jesus is explaining that in God things will change. And change, though important can often be hard, and sometimes scary. That’s probably an understatement. We all say we like change, but when it means that we ourselves need to change or accept that things have changed around us, then we might start getting annoyed, mad, or even terrified. It’s human nature. But that’s what Jesus is teaching about today. Because with God and the in-breaking of the kingdom, there will be changes.

To Jesus’ teaching, the disciples ask, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”[4] It seems like a fair question. I mean, wouldn’t you want to know? But of course, Jesus doesn’t give an easy straight forward answer. Instead he warns them, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”[5] There will be those who think they know what they’re talking about it, and they don’t. There will be those who think they can interpret the events of this world to mean this, that, or another thing. It sure makes for popular reading in some posts you might see online, or especially in some periodicals that might catch your eye when in the check-out line at the grocery store.

As a steward, though these words might be hard- words about change, wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues and worse… they remind us to keep things in perspective. It’s not about us, it’s about God. Similarly, it’s not for us to always know these things, because they are God’s things. Just like it’s not our stuff- the things we build into magnificent temples or even the two small copper coins the widow places into the treasury. All of this, and so much more, is not our stuff to begin with, it’s God’s.

A beautiful chandelier in the narthex outside of the sanctuary at the base of the stairwells. A beautiful reminder of Christ’s peace and presence with us.

At this point though if I were a disciple hearing these words from Jesus, I think I might have had enough. But Jesus doesn’t stop. He tells them they will be arrested, persecuted, handed over[6]– a pretty apt description of what will come for Jesus in the coming hours in Jerusalem. But he also tells them they will be betrayed by their loved ones,[7] and hated because of Christ’s name.[8] At this point, you can’t say Jesus hasn’t warned them. Such is the life of discipleship. It’s a hard one to be sure. But it’s deeply meaningful.

In spite of the challenges and sacrifice, it’s deeply meaningful to follow as a disciple. And for all of this, Jesus says that, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”[9] This will provide an opportunity to tell God’s story and point to God’s activity in, around, through, and for the whole world. It is a hard thing to be a disciple which Jesus is warning about in these final hours before the events of the passion begin with that Passover meal and all the rest that follows. But Jesus is also providing another stewardship truth that God is with them, just as God is with us. And through that presence God gives and entrusts God’s beloved children, disciples and stewards with “words…wisdom,”[10] and “endurance.”[11]

What is Stewardship?
Stewardship and discipleship go hand-in-hand. They aren’t always easy, especially to grow into, but once you start answering the call, you find that they are so meaningful and life fulfilling that you can’t help but want to grow deeper.

Stewardship really starts with an understanding that as the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”[12] Put another way, this really means that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. Think about it. All means all here. God entrusts us with all that makes us who we each are as the unique and beautiful Child of God that we are. God entrusts us with: our lives, health, bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, talents, presence, vocations, strengths, passions, ideas, dreams, questions, and stories; our money, finances, assets, and treasure of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of. All of this and so much more, are God’s, and God has chosen to entrust them to our care, for us to manage, use, and steward.

Some of the faithful gathered for a forum conversation between worship services.

God does this because God loves us. God wants us to live full, abundant, and meaningful lives. But also, because God calls us as disciples and stewards into being part of God’s work in the world. Through all that God entrusts, God wants us to help our neighbors, all of God’s children in the world, in any way we can. And through this, our life really becomes a life of following and service that is meaningful and abundant. But it’s not just about service either.

God knows us better than we know ourselves, because we are God’s beloved. God knows the number of hairs on our head, and God promises that not a hair on our head will perish. Because God is with us, for us, and loves us.[13] This presence of God with us, is a promise made for us in baptism when God claims us as God’s own, once and for all. And for this, we too make and affirm promises.

Stewardship as Joyful Response
These promises are true, and we cling to them because we have the benefit, unlike the disciples in today’s story, of knowing the rest of the story. We know what is to come. We know that God in Christ will go to and through the cross and tomb for us, and that they don’t have the final say. We know that resurrection is real. And for this trust and hope and promise of God bringing life out of death, we can’t help but give thanks and praise. The promises are true, like the prophet Micah foretells, “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”[14]

A fitting message for stewardship, Thanksgiving, and our joyful and grateful response to God.

We can’t help but be overjoyed, leaping for joy, because God can only do this. We could never do this, nor ever earn or deserve such an act. Yet God does this. Bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation. For us, God’s beloved. For this we give our thanks and praise. For this, “we sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things,” as the psalmist proclaims.[15] And for this, we can’t help but be so caught up in joy and gratitude that we want to be a part of God’s work in the world in some way, and that shows up through our lives as stewards.

Your Stewardship in Action- You Matter and you’re doing some of God’s work!
Friends, I know you understand this. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be leaning in, to call a Deacon to join your ministry here. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t continue to faithfully support Project Hope every month in addition to your monthly support for Open Door Mission and Completely Kids. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be part of so many other faith communities sending quilts around the world in the care of Lutheran World Relief to spread Christ’s love and warmth with your neighbors in need.

One of many examples at Luther Memorial of stewardship in action, helping respond and support the work of Completely Kids.

If you didn’t understand the depth of stewardship and discipleship, you wouldn’t be opening your doors to be a place of spiritual discernment for your neighbors. In addition to Pastor Carm, you have five spiritual directors who have been trained through Seeking the Spirit Within, and three of whom are supervisors of other spiritual directors. You are helping people grow deeper here and across the region in listening for God’s movement and call, training and uplifting spiritual directors and providing those gifts to ministry leaders and disciples across Nebraska. Your own Aliyah Richling is serving on the Nebraska Synod Assembly Planning Team. And your own Susan Lauman has been newly elected to the Nebraska Synod Women’s Organization board, of which you have many disciples who attend regular Synod Women’s gatherings.

But there’s so much more. If you didn’t understand the deep call of your stewardship and discipleship, you also wouldn’t be showing up for your neighbors and siblings in Christ in the ways that you do as part of the whole church together, through your mission share. But you do this and so much more.

As the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, my greatest joy in being out with congregations and walking alongside them, is saying thank you for all of the great ministry that you are already doing, and for being open and listening to God’s call to what God might be calling you to next. Today, I want to especially say thank you to all of you, for 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, though which you do ministry that spans the globe and changes lives.

The faithful at the end of worship. What a lovely congregation.

Through mission share, you raise up and support the development of new leaders in our church- new pastors like one whom you recently raised up and was just ordained this past summer, as well as deacons soon to be like Koren, and parish ministry associates. Through it, you share the good news of our God who loves us, with youth and youth adults, in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling and Lutheran Campus Ministry. Through it, you spread the Good News near and far through supporting missionaries around the globe, and new and renewing ministries right here at home all across the Big Red State. And through mission share, you not only see your neighbors like Jesus sees the widow in today’s story, you walk alongside them and join in relationship with them, through supporting our church serving arm partners like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Lutheran Disaster Response, and Lutheran World Relief.

There’s so much that you are a part of, and that you do. For all of it, on behalf of the church and your sisters and brothers across Nebraska and the globe, please hear my profound thanks. I know that in this age of uncertainty, anxiety, numbers turning flat or falling…that it can be hard to respond to God’s call to be a disciple, and a generous steward. But the way you continue to step up and be the disciples and stewards you are Luther Memorial, inspires me, and is not lost on me. Thank you for being so faithful.

And you know as a music lover, I had to take a picture of the beautiful organ in the balcony.

Putting it altogether – Gratitude
As Jesus teaches in some of his last teaching moments before the Last Supper and his being handed over, this life of being a steward and disciple is not always easy. It certainly has its ups and downs, and hardships. But amid the challenges of life and this walk together, God is right there making it possible, and making it worth it. We have an opportunity to tell God’s story, to testify as Jesus says about it. And we don’t do this alone. We do this with our God who is with us always, for us, and who loves us. And knowing this, and knowing this story this beautiful story, the best story of God, makes it all worth it as a disciple and steward. To tell and share with the world of what God has done, to wonder about what God might be up to, and to point to how God is active, present, and up to something right here, and in our daily lives all around us, through us, and in us.

This story of God has been entrusted to our care to point to and proclaim about who God is, through our words, deeds, and very lives as stewards and disciples. There is no greater purpose or calling as a Child of God than this. Thank you for answering the call. And thanks be to God for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Luke 21:1-2, NRSV.
[2] Luke 21:3-4, NRSV.
[3] Luke 21:6.
[4] Luke 21:7, NRSV.
[5] Luke 21:8, NRSV.
[6] Luke 21:12.
[7] Luke 21:16.
[8] Luke 21:17.
[9] Luke 21:13, NRSV.
[10] Luke 21:15.
[11] Luke 21:19.
[12] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
[13] Lue 21:18, NRSV.
[14] Malachi 4:2, NRSV.
[15] Psalm 98:1, NRSV.

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