I had the pleasure of joining Pastor Ricardo Riqueza at the congregations he serves alongside, on Sunday July 18, 2021. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from when visiting Trinity Lutheran Church in Polk, Nebraska and St. John’s Lutheran in Kronberg/Marquette, Nebraska. The sermon was based on the appointed readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 16B), especially Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and who loves you. Amen.
Good morning! Thank you so much Pastor Ricardo for the invitation to be with you today and to all of you for the warm welcome. Again, I am Deacon Timothy Siburg, the Nebraska Synod’s Director for Mission, Innovation and Stewardship. I bring you greetings today from Bishop Brian Maas, from my colleague Lisa Kramme, Nebraska Synod’s Director for Faith Formation who I know was just with you a few weeks ago, and from your 90,000 siblings in Christ who with you, are the Nebraska Synod. It’s a joy to be with you today, to share some good news, and words of gratitude for your discipleship and stewardship and how we’re all a part of God’s work in the world together, and I am also looking forward to more conversation with each of you after worship.
The Joy of Being Part of God’s Work
Our gospel story today picks up right where we left off last week. Right after the story of John the Baptist’s beheading, and Jesus and the disciples receiving word about this, and continuing to lean into the mission and ministry they are now all a part of. Understandably, they try and take some Sabbath time to recharge. That might work for a bit, but the news travels fast. People come. They come to taste and see. They come to touch and be healed. They come to hear, learn, and to witness. Discipleship is happening. And disciples are growing and being formed.
The disciples are growing and being formed. And they are excited. They are so excited that they gather around Jesus and tell him all what they had done and taught. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last couple of days. A friend of mine in talking about the stories in worship this week, shared that she imagines this is just like some kids telling their parents or teachers, “hey, look at what we have been doing.” “Can you believe it?” “Look what I did!” “Look at this.” Beaming with joy. Beaming with pride, and awe. Or perhaps even with a little bit of disbelief, like, “did that really just happen? God’s really at work here- and I’m getting to be part of it? How amazing!”
I’m starting to imagine this in a new way. You see, my wife and I have a 3-year old daughter and almost a 9-month old baby girl too. Our 3-year old is at the stage where she wants mommy and daddy to see everything. It’s wonderful. She’s so proud, and wants nothing more than for her parents and grandparents to just be so happy for her and of her. I bet many of you can remember those days or experiences. And I suspect that’s what Jesus is feeling too.
The disciples are seeing the work of God happening in their midst, so they are excited to tell Jesus about all that they had done and taught.
I would imagine, Jesus was excited about this too. I mean, he could really see and sense that some of what he was teaching and pointing to was starting to take hold. It’s the joy a teacher feels when their students start to grasp a concept or a big idea. It’s the joy a pastor feels when they see their congregation members grow as disciples and in understanding the truth of God’s love and grace. It’s the joy I feel, when I get to be out among the 90,000 disciples of our Lord and Savior, who gather in one of the 235+ congregations, and who together are the Nebraska Synod- the joy of seeing, sensing, and witnessing all that God is up to among God’s people.
There is joy in being part of God’s work. Stewardship. Discipleship. Helping our neighbors in need. Walking with our God who walks with us always. Gathering around the table and remembering that our God is for us- given for you and for me. Gathering as God’s people to confess and be forgiven, and through sharing the peace, to truly remember that our God’s abundant and abiding love is what makes this all possible. Yes, Jesus must have been excited and hopeful, at least a little bit, to see that the seeds he was planting with the disciples were beginning to grow.
The Challenges of Being Part of God’s Work
To the disciples he might have just said in response to their witness, stories, and joy, “Yes, and…” “Yes, and…” there will be so much more that lies ahead. “Yes, and…” things won’t always be easy or joyful. “Yes, and…” This work and life as a disciple that we are all called and invited to, and that we all live, is one that is deeply meaningful. But it’s not always easy. And it certainly has challenges.
Perhaps it’s why Jesus does what he does next. Good things are happening. But Jesus knows that some time away is necessary. So, he says to the disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus knows what lies ahead. And he knows that the disciples and himself will need some time to recharge, to be able to be fully present on the journey. So, in taking that time away, Jesus is leading by example. Time of reflection, breathing, prayer and study, and Sabbath is so important. They are in fact necessary for all people to take, to stay healthy- mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Jesus and the disciples doing this here is not just helpful for them, it’s a good reminder for all of us in our own lives, ministry, and vocations.
Admittedly, this time away can be hard to take, and may seem like a luxury. For Jesus and the disciples, people do find them. Word spreads. So ultimately, after a bit of calm, it’s back to the work of God’s mission being made real.
Jesus is back to teaching, healing, and sharing God’s love to the crowds that follow. But in the quiet time with the disciples, I imagine there was time for them to just be, but also time for them to take a step back and make sense of their own experiences and God sightings. There might well have been some time to reflect on the events that had transpired and grief they felt with the death of John the Baptist too.
Jesus knew all too well that their work and ministry was only starting to ramp up. And given the hard news about John, Jesus thought it would be wise to take some time away to be. To rest. To recharge. That time away would be helpful, but short. Because the crowds came, and word spread. So after a brief reset, Jesus went ashore having compassion on the crowd, and as their shepherd, began to teach and care for them.
But as the crowds come, they will need to be fed. That’s ultimately the story we know as the feeding of the 5000+. We skipped that story this week between the two sections of our gospel story we just read. But don’t worry, we’ll hear the Gospel of John’s version of that story next week. In skipping over that story, the story moves to when Jesus and the disciples had crossed over the sea and arrived at Gennesaret.
When Jesus and the disciples arrive there, word spreads just as quickly as it did before, if not more so. The crowds come. They want to see, they want to learn, they want to be filled. They want to witness. They want to know and perhaps even be known. They want to be healed. God’s work is happening. It’s important. But it’s hard work too. Work of change. Work of healing. Work of restoration. Work that lifts up the lowly and downtrodden. Work that brings about justice, reconciliation, and restoration for all of God’s people and God’s kingdom. Work that comforts the mourning and grieving. Work that proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come near. Work that though certainly welcomed by many, is also work that is not so welcomed by those in authority and power. The cross looms large in the story to come.
Even so, God’s work is being done. The Good News of the gospel is spreading, and people are noticing. Word is traveling. And people are coming to see for themselves. To hear the Word of God proclaimed. To be fed by the Bread of Life. To be healed of their afflictions through faith- even in such a small way as in reaching out for the fringes of a cloak. The people travel to come and see that the Lord is good. This is all God’s work, for God’s beloved.
Our Calling as Stewards and Disciples
It’s work we are entrusted with pointing to, proclaiming about, and joining in and co-creating with in some small ways at least through our own vocations. But most of all, it’s God’s work for us that we could never earn nor deserve. Pure gift and grace. Which moved by it, we can’t help but want to give thanks and praise, and then do what we can to join with God and share that good news and gift and promise with others.
It’s good news like what we hear in the familiar words of Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…” As disciples and stewards we walk with God, because God walks with us. Through the high points and the lowest valleys of life, and everywhere in between. The psalmist reminds us of the relationship we have with God, because God in Christ is our good shepherd. We are reminded of the stewardship truth, that in God, we are enough. We have enough and are enough for what God has called us- because we are God’s. And all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. What God has entrusted to our care, God has done so, so that we might live a life with meaning and purpose. That we might live abundantly in God’s love. And that we might also live as God’s own- embodying and sharing God’s abundance with our neighbors and the larger world around us who might be in need. When life is hard or easy, God walks with us. God has us, knows us, and holds us. And through these promises, entrusting, and presence, our cup literally overflows with the love and abundance of God. For this, we can’t help but give thanks and praise, and live life out of deep and joyful and grateful response to God.
That’s what stewardship is all about. Recognizing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Recognizing that we each, in our daily lives and in the claims made on us and for us in our baptisms, are made and claimed God’s beloved. Known, held, and loved. Called, sealed and sent with the Spirit. To live, to love, and share, and to serve. With all that we have and all that we are, God is at work in, around, through, and for you and for me.
It’s also a truth about discipleship. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, through Jesus, we are all claimed as Children of God and heirs of the covenant and promise with God. Through Christ we are all in relationship with God and with one another. That relationship is one of presence, support, mutuality, compassion, concern, care, and especially love. But it is also one of reconciliation and peace. A life of relationship with God and one another. We aren’t disciples and stewards by ourselves, but with all of God’s beloved, together. So together, we are created, called, and sent as disciples and stewards.
Your Stewardship and Discipleship- as the Nebraska Synod
Together, we grow disciples, walk together, and serve God’s world. That’s what it means to be part of the Nebraska Synod. You are part of the synod, just as much as I am. Together we are the disciples of God in Christ here in Nebraska who identify as ELCA Lutheran Christians. And together, we support one another and are part of God’s work and mission here and now. I know that you know that though. Your congregation is so faithful- through your service, your understanding of mission and discipleship as Lisa Kramme talked about when she was with you recently, and of course through your generosity and stewardship too.
One of the ways I know this most clearly is through 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 literally changes lives.
Through your mission share you help raise up new pastors, deacons, and parish ministry associates- as leaders and shepherds of the faith to walk alongside the faithful of all the congregations of our synod. Through it, you help youth and young adults know of God’s deep love for them, in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling. Through your mission share, you help support and spread the good news of the Gospel through supporting new and renewing ministries here all across the Big Red State, and by sending missionaries near and far around the globe. And through it, you help meet your neighbor’s needs locally and globally through the work of the many serving arm partners of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Tabitha, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Disaster Response, just to name a few. All of this is possible because we are in it together.
There is so much that you do and that you help make possible. On behalf of your siblings in Christ, here in Nebraska and around the globe, it is my great joy to tell you, Thank you. Thank you for your discipleship. Thank you for your stewardship. Thank you for your generosity. And thank you for truly being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. This is just a small sampling of how we’re all part of the Nebraska Synod together. And I look forward to more conversation about this with you after worship.
If Jesus was saying “yes, and” to the disciples, he may well be saying that to us today too. You are doing some of God’s work right here in Polk/Kronberg and Marquette, and you make so much of it possible too as part of the whole church together. Thank you! As you do this, know that I deeply believe in the truth that God proclaims to each of us this week. That God provides life to us, as we remember with the psalmist. That God gathers us and multiples God’s purpose fruitfully as Jeremiah reminded us. That God claims us each and everyone of us, as beloved, as Paul reminded. And that God in Christ not only walks with us and heals, but shares joy with us as God’s work is being done, as our gospel lesson reminded.
Through these stories, and all the work you are part of, we know that God is active and up to something. We also know that it is all part of God’s on-going work of love and kingdom building that continues around you, with you, through you, and in you. But most importantly it’s work that God does for you and all of God’s beloved- so that we might all know the truth and depth of God’s abundant and abiding love, and through grace, be able to respond with gratitude and joy for all that God has done, continues to do, and will do, for us. May we too have the joy and excitement that those disciples felt when telling about what they had done and seen to Jesus. Thank you again for being God in Christ’s faithful disciples and stewards that you are. And thanks be to God for God’s abundant love and life that makes it all possible. Amen.
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