“Come and See…” – a #Stewardship Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Early before worship at Salem Lutheran on a morning with wind chills of around -20, and an actual temperature of -3 or so.

It was a joy to be with the good people of Salem Lutheran and St. Timothy Lutheran in Fremont, Nebraska. Thank you to Pastor Shari Schwedhelm for the invitation, and to both congregations for the warm welcome. I was invited to preach on stewardship and lead worship for both congregations. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from based on the readings appointed for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year A): John 1:29-42; Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; and 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.

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

Good morning Salem/St. Timothy. It’s so good to be back with you again friends. Thank you to Pastor Shari for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring you greetings today from Bishop Brian Maas, from your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Juliet Focken, from your fellow disciples at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, and from all of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ, who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I’m grateful to be with you today, as we dig into our stories this week and see what God might be calling us to see and hear. To think some about stewardship of course, and about your ministry theme of Thankfulness in 2020.

God’s Story for Us This Week
In our gospel reading, we find ourselves near the beginning of the Gospel of John. Jesus has just been baptized by John as we celebrated in worship last week. And John has been amazed. He “saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove,” and how it “remained on him.”[1] He pointed to the Holy Spirit’s presence and how this one who was to come, Jesus, baptizes with the Spirit and testifies to these facts.[2]

One of the beautiful stained glass windows at Salem Lutheran, depicting the Good Shepherd, and perhaps also the Lamb of God.

In witnessing Jesus walk by in the days after his baptism, John repeats the same proclamation, “Here is the Lamb of God.”[3] John recognizes that the Christ is also the Lamb of God. He’s providing witness. He’s pointing to God active in the midst of the world, calling the world to come and see. And John’s words do not go unheard.

Two disciples of John’s followed Jesus, because they heard what John said about him. Of course, Jesus saw that he was being followed. So, “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’”[4]

What are you looking for? That might be a question for all of us, really. What are you looking for? For meaning? For purpose? For answers? For hope? For healing? For forgiveness? For peace? For justice? For connection? For enough? For love?

What are you looking for, Child of God? Perhaps a question that might have been pondered during the Children’s Time in worship at Salem this week when thinking about the Holy Spirit’s work, invitation, and presence with us.

What are you looking for, Child of God? You who have been claimed by God once and for all in these waters. You who are named Child of God, a name that can never be taken away. You who have been washed, cleaned, equipped, empowered, held, and sent, just as this Messiah has been last week. We are all invited, named, claimed, and sent.

The disciples’ interest was piqued. To this Rabbi Jesus that they did not yet know they asked, “Where are you staying?[5] What a simple question of hospitality, which would end up being the ultimate invitation to relationship with their Lord. An invitation to discipleship. An invitation to walking with. An invitation that Jesus would offer simply, but profoundly in response.

To their question about where he was staying, Jesus said, “Come and see.”[6] So they did. And Jesus’ disciples they would now be- bold witnesses who would proclaim, “We have found the Messiah,” and share of God’s love near and far.[7]

The congregation of St. Timothy Lutheran gathered for worship, and sharing their gifts during the offering.

Come and See
As Jesus invites Andrew and Simon Peter, he invites you too. “Come and see.” Come and see what God is doing. Come and see that God is with you. Come and find what it is you are truly, deep down, looking for. Come and see, that the Lord is good.

This story sets in motion the rest of the events of the Gospel of John. The themes of “Come and see,” the identity of who this Messiah is, and the call of disciples. In thinking about living this life as disciples and stewards, it’s a beginning place. It begins with the flowing waters of baptism, and quickly follows like in today’s story with an invitation.

We too are invited to come and see. We’re invited to come and see that God is indeed active and up to something. We’re invited to see what the prophet Isaiah means when he writes that God gives God’s own as a “light to the nations.”[8] A light that we all are baptized in and with. A light that we all share and embody in some way too. A light that is given to the world so that God’s gift and promise of salvation “may reach to the ends of the earth.”[9]

Some of the ways that the disciples of St. Timothy Lutheran are sharing the Light of Christ with the world.

God gives God’s own as a light, so that we might all be able to come and see. God invites us into the light, and God does this, for us, and for all of God’s beloved children. For the sake of the world.

When God gives God’s own as a “light,” there is a claim and act of entrusting for the sake of creation. God’s work is being done, and we’re part of that work as we answer Jesus’ question about what we are looking for. We’re part of that work as we come and see and invite others to come and see as God’s stewards and disciples. We’re part of the work of sharing and telling the story of God’s love and promises.

Gratitude, Joy, and Stewardship
As we come and see, we inherently will be awed. The psalmist speaks to this, proclaiming, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.”[10] As we come and see we will be amazed. If we try and count all of God’s work, we would never be able to stop. It would be like taking God’s proclamation to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Infinite. Never ending. God’s wondrous deeds are more than can be counted. And recognizing this, says quite a lot about the depth of God’s love and the extent to which God will go for God’s beloved, doesn’t it?

My view from behind as the choir at Salem Lutheran sang fittingly this week, “Come and Behold Him.” And yes, synod ministry partner Dennis Remington from Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry is on the end closest to me, helping lead the men’s section.

That’s really where stewardship comes in, friends. It comes in when we remember who God is, and whose we are, God’s. It comes in when we remember what the psalmist says earlier that, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”[11] Or put another way, that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. God entrusts us with our very: lives, health, bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships; our time, talents, strengths, gifts, passions, and vocations; our treasure, finances, money and assets of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds us and we’re a part of. Even if it’s as cold, snowy, and icy a winter weekend as the one we’re having.

All of this and so much more, God entrusts to our care. So that we might have life and live abundantly, but also so that through us some of God’s work might be done. Through God working within us and inviting us into this deep life together as Children of God, we are opened wide with wonder and willingness to serve, turned outward to the world as bearers of God’s love.

As we remember the prophet and modern saint, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, I wonder if this is in part what he had in mind when he preached about the beloved community? One that is not just the far off and not yet Kingdom of God, breaking into the world bit by bit. But rather the Beloved Community of God’s children, in this world together for the sake of each other today. Living out our deeply meaningful lives, claimed and equipped in baptism, open to wonder and to respond to Jesus’ invitation to us to “come and see.” And when coming to see, we can’t help but be amazed.

Catching a moment of quiet after worship in the sun filled sanctuary of St. Timothy Lutheran. As I preached on coming and seeing, and mentioned the Beloved Community, one disciple during the sermon got up and went over and introduced himself to a visitor this week. He wanted to know their name. It was beautiful, and an example of walking together and sharing Christ’s light in all that we do. And frankly, I could have sat down there and then, as that more or less made my sermon’s intended point with far fewer words.

God created this world, good. It’s loved. But it’s also broken and hurting. And God gives God’s own as a light to heal, to reconcile with one another, to work for justice and peace, and to both proclaim and share God’s love. To heal the hurt. To welcome the lost and lonely. To bring us all together as God’s people and God’s beloved community. If this comes to pass, this still would just be a starting place to the list of all of God’s wondrous deeds for us.

Thankfulness, your 2020 Theme for Ministry
It’s quite amazing really. And in knowing that God does all of this, for us, it fills us with wonder, gratitude, and joy. If we tried to count all of God’s wondrous deeds like the psalmist says, we’d surely run out of time. And that fills me, and I hope fills you, with awe, wonder, gratitude, and joy, seeing God’s work, gifts, and promises. We could never earn any of this.

We could never earn the promise and gift of life and salvation that Jesus today invites the disciples to come and see. We could never do any of this ourselves. But God invites us to take hold of it. God invites us, to reflect deeply on what we’re looking for, and to come and see that the Lord is good. And when we do this, we can’t help but give our thanks and praise.

When we do this, we join in with the Apostle Paul in his gratitude and joy for the disciples of Corinth. Paul says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…”[12] Paul in this is giving you words for your congregation’s theme for this long-awaited year of 2020. Your theme as I have been told for the year ahead is “Thankfulness.” Nothing warms my heart more as your partner for ministry for stewardship than to hear that is your focus.

As we approach our shared ministry, mission, and stewardship together from a perspective gratitude, we acknowledge that it’s God’s work. It’s God’s stuff. All that we have and all that we are is God’s. And the only possible response to that is one of gratitude and joy. Lean into this theme this year, and know how excited I am for you, to see what new things God might be up to in you, through you, around you, and calling you to be a part of together this year.

I always love to see these certificates on the wall when I visit congregations. Thank you Salem for continuing to participate in mission share.

Like Paul, I give thanks to God always for you, because through you some of God’s work in the world is done. In you, the light of Christ shines. Through you and your generous stewardship, God’s love is shared right here in Fremont, all across Nebraska, around the country and all around the globe.

God’s Work in Action and our Response
I know this deeply. I have seen it. I see it every time I am out in one of your sister congregations of our synod. I hear it in the stories of neighbors near and far grateful because you are praying for them, walking with them. I have felt it, especially in the last year in seeing all of you step up to support your community in need during and after the floods, and in the way so many others have stepped up to be with you and respond to the on-going recovery efforts and needs.

I also know it’s true because of your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. Mission share is your congregation’s undesignated offering that you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe, and changes lives.

And thank you St. Timothy Lutheran for continuing to participate in mission share too.

Through mission share, you support and raise up new leaders- pastors, deacons, and parish ministry associates of the church, like your own Pastor Shari who was raised up right here in Nebraska. Through it, you invite others to “come and see” that the Lord is good by helping send missionaries around the world, and supporting new and renewing ministries across the Big Red State.

Through it, you help youth and young adults know of God’s deep love for them in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling and Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry. And through mission share, you accompany your neighbors next door and all around the globe, through supporting our church serving arm partners of ministry like Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, and Lutheran World Relief. Just to name a few.

If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this, than you! Just as Paul told the Corinthians, I too “give thanks to God always for you.” There’s so much that you do and that you are a part of, as God’s people in Fremont. Thank you! Thank you for being open to the Spirit’s movement, to respond to your neighbor’s needs, and to continue to serve and grow in the Gospel. Thank you for stepping up in faith to partner in ministry with your sisters and brothers at Salem/St. Timothy. Through your collaboration together, even more ministry is possible. And your leadership and example do not go unnoticed. Thank you!

I didn’t take my usual outside pictures because of the cold temperatures. But the snow and ice outside of St. Timothy and Salem were beautiful sights to behold of God’s creation and wonder during the heart of winter.

Putting it Altogether
So, people of God, what are you looking for, today? As Jesus asked those first disciples that question, he’s asking us all again, and invites us all to “come and see!” Together as God’s people we’re invited to follow, to learn, to grow, to be. We’re invited, to gather, together over bread and wine. To see our neighbors, and be so moved to share Christ’s light and love with them through all that we are and all that we do. We’re invited to witness. We’re invited to grow as disciples. And we’re invited to respond generously as stewards of God’s abundant love.

Thank you for accepting the invitation to come and see. Thank you and for being the stewards and disciples you are here in Fremont doing some of God’s work. And most importantly, thanks be to God who makes this community and all that we do together, possible. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] John 1:32, NRSV.
[2] John 1:33-34, NRSV.
[3] John 1:29 and 1:36, NRSV.
[4] John 1:38, NRSV.
[5] John 1:38, NRSV.
[6] John 1:39, NRSV.
[7] John 1:41, NRSV.
[8] Isaiah 49:6, NRSV.
[9] Isaiah 49:6, NRSV.
[10] Psalm 40:5, NRSV.
[11] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
[12] 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, NRSV.

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