“This is the Way” – a sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost- Sunday September 19, 2021

Outside of St. Mark’s on a beautiful morning before worship with Pr. Terry Krueger.

It was a joy to be with the good people of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bloomfield, Nebraska and to share the message. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from for a sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost Year B (Lectionary 25- Year B), based on especially Mark 9:30-37 and Psalm 54. Thank you again Pastor Terry Krueger for the invitation and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome.

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

Good morning St. Mark’s. It is so great to be with you today. Thank you Pastor Terry for the invitation and to all of you for the warm welcome. Again, I’m Deacon Timothy Siburg, Director for Mission, Innovation and Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod. I bring you greetings from Bishop Brian Maas and from your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Kristen Van Stee, as well as from all of your 90,000+ siblings in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod.

I am grateful to be with you today. To dig into God’s stories for us. To see and hear some about what God is up to among all of you, God’s people here in Bloomfield. To share some about what God might be up to across the synod. And most importantly, to share in the Good News and promises of our abundant and abiding God of love.

Video from worship, including a video of the sermon as preached on September 19th.

Walking with Jesus and Digging into the Good News
This good news and these promises weren’t clear yet to the disciples in our story today though, were they? Jesus is here making a second announcement about who he is and what God in Christ’s mission is, and the disciples miss it. They miss the point. They misunderstand. They very well might have missed the boat. They fail to see the bigger picture.

Passing through Galilee, Jesus says to the twelve, “The son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”[1] Either the disciples didn’t understand, or they knew they didn’t get it and chose not to ask Jesus a question to explain it. Either way, they missed it. This is hard news to hear. But it’s also good news to hear. Death and life. The core of God’s work, for you and for me. Jesus is pointing to it about as clearly as he ever will. But perhaps they haven’t figured out who the son of Man is? Perhaps they really haven’t come up with an answer to his question from earlier on this journey of “who do you say that I am?”[2]

If, as the story says that the disciples didn’t get what Jesus was talking about, and they were too afraid to ask for him to explain it or to help, I think we can all relate.[3] Just about everyone is afraid to ask for help at some point. We’re afraid at times to ask for help or ask questions or ask for directions. We have this human desire to be seen as smart, and are afraid that asking a question might make us look like we don’t know something we should.

Ironically, of course if one person has a question, many others likely have the same question. I suspect that would have been true for the disciples. Nonetheless, Jesus is describing yet again what is to come. God in Christ’s work for you and for me. It will ultimately be good news. But it will be a hard journey, to be sure. And it’s one that no one seems to understand, at least yet.

A reminder that God in Christ is for you, is no more better pronounced than through the sacrament of communion.

The disciples clearly didn’t get it. They were arguing about who the greatest is, instead of listening to Jesus and learning that it’s not about who is great, but about serving and loving and caring for the least of these. It’s even and especially about caring for and welcoming children- the smallest and lowest-status person in the society that Jesus taught, preached, and lived in.[4] So after having passed through Galilee, and coming to Capernaum, Jesus finally asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”[5] No one answers. At least the silence might show that they kind of knew that what they were doing was somewhat ridiculous. Jesus doesn’t rebuke them though. Instead, he offers yet another teaching example. Clearly, Jesus knew what they had been talking and arguing about. So he flips the script, and turns the idea of greatness on its head- from our human and worldly one, to one that better shows us, God’s view, of what true greatness is.

Jesus says, “‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”[6]

Ah-ha. Mind blown. Could you imagine the disciples’ faces lighting up after this story? I would hope so. But I’m not all that confident that’s what happened. Because we know that more of these stories like this lie ahead on the journey to Jerusalem. More of these stories and teaching moments will pass before the cross comes into view. But maybe, just maybe, putting all of these experiences together, the people will start to figure it out.

To figure out the way that Jesus is showing and directing them. The way of service. The way of welcome. The way of accompaniment and reconciliation. The way and life as stewards and disciples of God’s love. Together, this is the way.

This is the Way- Living the life of welcome for the lost and the least
Last week many ELCA congregations participated in their Rally Sunday or kick off day and “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday. I know you had quite a bit of celebrating here too- celebrating your congregation’s 115th anniversary. Amid that- celebrating, serving, witnessing, learning, gathering and worshipping- what did you see, sense, experience, and do? Where did you see God at work and present among, for, in, and with you?  

I ask all that because serving like Jesus teaches about in today’s story seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? Us Lutherans really seem to get this well- to try and help people because that’s part of what it means to show Jesus’ love. But just because it might sound straight forward, it may in fact not be very easy. Jesus’ lesson is about serving, but it is also about recognizing that serving isn’t an “us and them” thing, but a “you and me” together thing.

We serve by listening and seeing. We serve by doing, but not by presuming we have the right way or the right answer for another. Rather, our service is grounded in accompaniment. Where, like Jesus accompanies the disciples on the road today and meets them where they are at with their questions and wondering. He doesn’t prescribe an easy answer, but shows compassion and shows and teaches about love through his words and deeds, because that’s what God’s mission of love is all about. So in our service, with one another- whether with people who look like us some or not at all- with people with similar life stories as you and me, or not at all… we meet each other in life- and are in relationship with one another, out of God’s deep call, invitation, and love.

The people of St. Mark’s gathered for worship, before the service begins.

When we gather with others and meet others- whether to listen, to help, to share a cup of cool water or provide a sign of welcome; through that act of love we might sense that God is active and up to something in our community and world. Together we might help each other, grow as disciples, and be bearers of God’s love today. And when we take this act of service as first and foremost our embodied lives in response to God’s work and love for us, we also open ourselves up to the last part of this wisdom from Jesus today about the true depth of welcome.

Getting Real- Walking the Talk
I am grateful for each and everyone of you for the warm welcome you have shown me today. Thank you! But as your partner in ministry for mission, innovation and stewardship I must confess that one of the first things I wonder about every congregation I visit is, how might this faith community show welcome? Does this congregation let people come as they are? Or are there stated or unstated expectations of what is appropriate and who is welcome? Are kids allowed to come as is? Or, do they need to be in a separate room? Perhaps I am hyper sensitive to this right now as the parent of two little ones. But I believe Jesus is calling us out. He’s confronting us with the grace of the gospel, but also pointing us to the truth that God’s love and promises are for everyone- small and big, young and old, and everywhere in between. So if we really want to take Jesus’ lesson to heart, we need to get real about welcome, inclusion, reconciliation, and accompaniment.
All of these big words could and should be sermons on their own. But at their heart is this cross. The means through which the Son of Man would die upon and then afterward would rise again. An action that God in Christ does for you, and for me, and for all of God’s beloved. An action taken as part of God’s saving work as pure gift through God’s love and grace. Undeserved but given freely.

Even when we come up short in showing welcome. Even when we fail to do as we ought to love and care for our neighbor. Even when we join the horrors of the mob and the powers that be, to the point of putting our Lord and Savior to death. Jesus’ words for his disciples today and always come out of love and compassion, just as they do for us- Christ’s disciples and stewards today.

St. Mark’s is in the midst of celebrating its 115th anniversary by collecting reasons and stories of God’s love.

Our Response is our stewardship and discipleship
To this and for this, how can we do anything but give thanks and praise to God? Like the psalmist says today, “With a freewill-offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.”[7] We respond to God’s gifts and promises for us, with pure joy and gratitude. For God entrusted us with all that we have and all that we are. We are God’s. Why? Because God wants us to live abundantly, to live in love and in relationship with God and one another, and that through God’s own, us, God’s love might be shown to all of God’s beloved. For we are entrusted with everything we need, and we are enough for this task because God is with us in it. That’s the truth about stewardship. It’s not all about us. It’s about our neighbors. God entrusts to us for two reasons- so that we might live abundantly, and so that our neighbors might too. So when we respond to God’s saving work and to all that God has done, will do, and promises to do for us- we are living out our lives as stewards and disciples.

God’s work is the big stuff. The work of saving. That’s not ours. It’s God’s. Our work is our response to that free gift. Our work is that of radical welcome and hospitality. Work of caring for our neighbors through using what God entrusts into our care for our neighbors’ sake and sharing the promises and good news of God with all of God’s beloved. Our work is taking Jesus’ words today to heart, to welcome any and all. To seek out the lost and the lonely and say, “I see you. You are mine. I love you.”

Gratitude and Thanksgiving
Siblings in Christ, saints of St. Mark’s, I know you get this. I have seen it today in the short time already that I have been with you. And I know this too because you continue to step up and show up through your discipleship and stewardship. I know this most clearly 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 literally changes lives.

The congregation gathered for food and fellowship after worship.

Through your mission share you help raise up new leaders, pastors- like your Pr. Terry, deacons- like me, and parish ministry associates, who help accompany and walk with God’s people and let them know of God’s promises. Through it, you help support 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 right here all across Nebraska 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, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Disaster Response just to name a few. All of this is possible because of you, and because we are all part of the Nebraska Synod and this church 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 and generosity. Thank you for your service and welcome. And thank you for truly being Christ’s hands and feet in the world- showing and sharing Jesus’ love for all.

Pr. Terry and me, after worship. Thank you again Pastor Terry for the gift of the stole, that shows perfectly the sign of welcome to all that Jesus preached and proclaimed especially in stories like this week’s gospel lesson.

Who is the greatest? Nah. But this is the way. 
Eventually the disciples will figure out what Jesus means about serving and about true greatness being the one who always show love. We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story after all. But for today, I give thanks knowing that each of you aren’t asking “Who is the greatest?” But rather, what might God be up today, and what might God in Christ be inviting? Because in our story today, he invites the little children to come. He invites you to come. He invites me to come. He invites us to come and see. To come and taste. To come and know as the psalmist proclaims that the Lord is good. 

When we remember this, everything else falls right into place. We remember that we are to love God, and to love neighbor. This isn’t always easy, but it’s the call and commandment that Jesus puts before us. Don’t be like the disciples at the beginning of today’s story. Don’t worry about who the greatest is. Rather, be like them when they finally figure it out. Focus on the way. The way of showing love. The way of truly being a beacon of welcome. The way of serving and showing compassion. The way of proclaiming through all that you are and all that you do- That God is for you. That God is with you. And that God loves you. Always. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Citations and References:

[1] Mark 9:31, NRSV.
[2] As in Mark 8:29, NRSV.
[3] “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Mark 9:32, NRSV.
[4] Mark 9:33-37, NRSV.
[5] Mark 9:33, NRSV.
[6] Mark 9:35-37, NRSV.
[7] Psalm 54:6, NRSV.

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