It was a joy to be with the good people of Trinity Lutheran in Cordova, Nebraska today (Sunday February 9, 2020). Thank you to the invitation of Pastor Michelle Kanzaki to be with the congregation as part of the third Nebraska Synod Road Show weekend. I was invited to come and preach and share words about how we are the church together, as well as an update on disaster relief after the floods and blizzards from last year. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from, based especially on the lessons for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Year A) of the Revised Common Lectionary, Matthew 5:13-20 and Isaiah 58:1-12.
Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and loves you. Amen. Good morning Trinity! It’s so great to be with you. Thank you Pastor Michelle for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings today from Bishop Brian Maas, from your assistant to the Bishop Pastor Megan Morrow, from your own homegrown synod staff Director for Faith Formation and my dear friend and colleague Lisa Kramme, 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, as part of the Nebraska Synod’s Road Show weekend in Grand Island. Yesterday we heard about awesome things of ministry happening in your congregation and your partner congregations of your Crossroads Mission Cluster and neighboring clusters. We also thought about what God might be doing and calling and leading us all to next. And to be with you this morning, is a joy as we are the church together- walking together, growing disciples, doing God’s work and sharing God’s love. To this end, I am grateful for the chance for us to dwell in God’s word today and see what God might be calling us to notice; to think some about how we are disciples and stewards of God’s love, responding to God’s love through our lives today; and about how we are part of the church together, doing God’s work in the world near and far.
On the Mount with Jesus
Now, turning to the gospel. We find ourselves still on the Mount with Jesus, who is continuing early on in his Sermon on the Mount. He has just finished proclaiming the Beatitudes or blessings, with a reminder to “rejoice and be glad.” But now he talks more about us as disciples and stewards, and how we are to be “salt of the earth.”
Jesus proclaims, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” We’re created and called to be salt of the earth- to grow and learn as disciples and serve as stewards. But woe to us if we lose our saltiness. If we lose our sense of connection to the one who creates, calls, and sends us; if we lose our taste, as Jesus says such salt is “no longer good for anything.” Harsh words from Jesus. But on point. We’re called and sent, and it matters. Not for our sake perhaps, but for the sake of our neighbors whom God calls us into relationship with.
Jesus continues. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” It’s like the old Sunday School and spiritual song, “This Little Light of Mine.” “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine!”
We are called to be the light of the world, to radiate Christ’s light of love for all. Our places of worship, our church buildings and sanctuary like this one, our communities and neighborhoods like Cordova are part of the Kingdom of God. Through word and deed, we’re called not to hide but to clearly tell the story of God’s love through all that we do. To point to, by example who we are, and whose we are, as Children of God.
And Jesus adds this kicker, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus preaches all of this to the disciples and the crowd who had gathered around him on the mountain. But he also preaches this to us, today. We’re each called to go and do likewise. We’re called, as we often hear in our baptisms, to “let our lights shine before others so that others might see our good works, and give glory to God.” This isn’t works righteousness. This isn’t us doing work for our sake. No. It’s about living life as disciples and stewards, being bearers of God’s love in the world. Living out our baptized lives, growing as disciples and serving as generous stewards of God’s love.
Living and Bearing Christ’s Light and God’s Law of Love
Jesus keeps going of course. This sermon that we know as his “Sermon on the Mount” fills three entire chapters of Matthew. But today’s portion ends with some thoughts about the kingdom of heaven, and how Jesus has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to remember the purpose of the law. The law was given to God’s people so that “life might go well for them,” and for each Child of God to be in right relationship with God and one another. We sometimes forget this. So when Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He means it. He’s fulfilling the purpose of the law. Pointing to God for each Child of God’s sake. Opening our eyes to each other, to see others in need, to care for their sakes. Fulfilling the words and teachings of the prophets.
Words like we heard from Micah last week to “Love kindness, do justice, and walk humbly with our God.” And words like we hear from Isaiah this week about the fast that God chooses, “to loosen the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” and which God calls us into, in order to “share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our homes” to clothe the naked, and not hide away from those in relationship with us. This is the law that Jesus is fulfilling. The law that has been created so that life might go well. The law that cares for the widow, the poor, the destitute, the hungry, the lowly, the marginalized, the neighbor. The law that has at its heart, the kingdom of God, where all are one. Where all are in relationship with each other. Heirs of the promise. Beloved.
Our Call as Stewards and Disciples
It’s clear that Jesus is preaching about discipleship and stewardship in his Sermon on the Mount. We’re created, called, and sent to be salt and light. We do this, because on the one hand, Jesus tells us to do so. But we do so joyfully and gratefully too, because we get to do this, we don’t just have to do this. We are freed in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We’re made right with God, who opens arms on the cross outward toward us and all of creation. That’s a loving move. To go to and through the point of death on a cross, for our sake.
How do we respond to something we could never earn or do ourselves? We respond with thanks and praise. We respond with joy and gratitude for God’s love and generosity and abundance. We respond by being swept up in our desire to be a part of God’s kingdom building work in the world in some way. To do the work of caring for those in need as the prophets have proclaimed in the law. And to be bearers of the hope and promise of God’s life-giving abundant love.
Friends, this is what stewardship is. It’s not about us. It’s about responding to what God has done, what is God is doing, and what God is up to- in, around, and through each of us and our congregations. To live salty, where our salt still has taste is to lean into this life as disciples and stewards and grow. To not stagnate or take it for granted, but to be moved. To see our neighbors. To wonder what God might be up, and to answer Christ’s call to “come and see that the Lord is good.”
We’re in This Together
Now, God created this world good, but not perfect. If it were perfect, there wouldn’t be natural disasters, nor the sins we as humanity continue to become captive to, nor the divisions we continue to divide ourselves into. Cutting ourselves off from each other, out of fear of one another. And falling for the lies of scarcity, of not having enough, and failing to remember that our God is abundant. But I have hope.
This past year, I have seen God at work in, and through you friends. Through your sisters and brothers in Christ around this state, country, and the whole globe really who have been holding each other in prayer during and after the floods. Whom have responded so generously by supporting the synod’s disaster fund. And whom continue to offer to come and help in any way that might be useful. There is still much to be done. Generally, a recovery from a storm like this can take up to five years. We’re only approaching the first anniversary. Families and communities continue to face a challenging road ahead for recovery. Please continue to hold your sisters and brothers in prayer.
Continue to be generous any way you can. And when calls go out from congregations and communities like Atkinson, Basset, Bristow, Dannebrog, Nebraska City, Niobrara, and Spencer for help, please answer those calls. There will be more I fear too in the year ahead. The forecast for flooding this year is high, with even a higher likelihood than last year, especially on the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers. In fact, it wasn’t until right before Christmas when the last flood warning or watch in Nebraska ended this past year, marking the first time since the beginning of February that somewhere in the state wasn’t at risk of floods. Of course, that risk has returned. The rivers have been running high all winter, as they were during the fall. There’s now ice jams on the rivers, and as its February, we’ll most likely have some more heavy snow and ice before the spring thaw comes.
I currently serve on the Nebraska Synod Disaster Response Team, which helps distribute grant funds to congregations and communities in need. And your synod’s serving arm partner, Lutheran Family Services, has been on the ground across the synod since the first flood waters rose last year, accompanying congregations and leaders- providing counseling, translating, and resources. And LFS is currently in the hiring process for a new Director for Disaster Response. This role will be a great asset and partner in preparing for and responding to disasters.
Being Church Together
This is but one way that we are the church together. This is part of what it means when we say that we are all the Nebraska Synod. You, me, all 100,000 disciples across Nebraska in 240+ congregations from Scottsbluff to Falls City, from Omaha to North Platte, Sioux City to Wymore and everywhere in between. The Synod does much more, and is much more, than meets the eye. We’re all part of it, and all our stewardship makes it possible.
Remembering Jesus’ words today, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. And you let your light so shine before others, that they might see and know God. If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this. Thank you! Thank you for responding to Jesus’ call in all the ways that you do. Thank you for being the salt and the light that you are. You are created, called, and sent as beloved salt that shines.
One of the ways I know this to be true most clearly as your partner in ministry for stewardship, is 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, through which you do ministry that spans the globe and changes lives.
Your Salt and Light in Action
Through you and your participation in mission share, you see your neighbors in need near and far like in the floods and blizzards of the past year, and you respond to their needs through supporting our church serving arm partners like Lutheran Family Services and Lutheran Disaster Response. Through mission share, you walk with your neighbors in need and accompany them facing the joys and challenges of life through supporting serving arms like Mosaic and Lutheran World Relief.
Through it, you support and help raise up new leaders of the church- new pastors, deacons, and parish ministry associates. This is one way we as the church together are responding to this new day and challenge of a rostered minister shortage. Where the data tells us there are over 1,000 full time openings in the ELCA that we don’t currently have enough leaders for; you are faithful and help support sending new leaders to seminary and support their learning and service right here in Nebraska, responding to that challenge.
Through mission share, you also do the important work of sharing God’s light and love with youth and young adults, in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling, as well as Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry. Through it, every congregation of this synod can support its youth and young adults and send them on mission trips and engage in experiences like the Journey, LYON- Lutheran Youth of Nebraska, the annual Nebraska Synod Middle School Gathering and the National Youth Gathering. Through mission share and being the synod together, we walk together- through the joys of life and the hard times too. And through mission share, you are the salt of the earth spreading the Good News of the gospel by supporting missionaries around the world, and new and renewing ministries right here at home across the Big Red State.
There’s so much more that you do and that you are part of by being part of the whole church. The truth is, all of this is possible because we are in this together. Being God’s light in the world, collectively. There’s so much more that we can do as God’s people together, than we could ever do alone. That’s why God calls, gathers, and sends us as disciples and stewards.
The question we have been wondering in these Road Show weekends across the synod, is, “What’s next?” It’s a great question, especially for our gospel story today. When we are baptized, we are named and claimed, “Child of God.” We’re washed clean, and invited into this life of discipleship and stewardship. And we’re sent with Jesus’ words from today’s story, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
So, Trinity Lutheran, what’s next? How will you share your salt and Christ’s light that shines through you with a world so in need of both? You’re already doing it in so many ways, so know how grateful I am for that. Thank you. But I wonder, what might be next? How might you be invited both internally as disciples and your congregation, and externally as part of the whole church together to grow deeper with God? within yourselves and your congregation God is up to something new here- in you, around you, through you, and for you. Lean into this, this year. Wonder with God. Follow Christ’s invitation. And be the bearers of Christ’s light, love, and hope that you are all created and called to be. Thanks be to God for you and for all of the good work that you do as stewards and disciples here in Cordova. And thanks be to God for all that God has done, will do, and is doing now in, through, and for you. Amen.
Citations and References:
 In Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV.
 Matthew 5:13, NRSV.
 Matthew 5:14-15, NRSV.
 Matthew 5:16, NRSV.
 At least according to Rev. Dr. Terence E. Fretheim, and other favorite Old Testament professors and scholars I studied under and read perspectives from.
 Matthew 5:17, NRSV.
 From Micah 6:8, NRSV.
 From Isaiah 58:6-7, NRSV.
 Matthew 5:16, NRSV.