The Overflowing Abundance of God’s Mercy and Love for All of God’s Beloved- a sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Outside beautiful Christ’s Lutheran Church in Davenport on a beautiful sunny February Sunday morning.

I had the privilege of being with the people of God gathered as Zion Lutheran Church in Carleton, Nebraska and Christ’s Lutheran Church in Davenport, Nebraska on Sunday February 20, 2022 thanks to the invitation of their Pastor Beth Roegner. These are warm and vibrant congregations of God’s faithful people and it was a joy to be with them. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from based on the readings appointed for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (Year C), especially Luke 6:27-38; Genesis 45:3-11; and 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50. If you would prefer to watch or listen to the sermon, videos from the congregation’s Facebook pages embedded below. Also, note that Microsoft Word and WordPress were not playing well together when I posted this, so all footnote citations had to be embedded in the text of the manuscript as you will notice references in parenthesis.

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

Good morning Zion Lutheran/Christ’s Lutheran! It’s so great to be with you. Again, I am Deacon Timothy Siburg, your partner in ministry as the Nebraska Synod’s Director for Mission, Innovation and Stewardship. Thank you Pastor Beth for the invitation and to all of you for the warm welcome. Today I bring you greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, from your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Megan Morrow, and from your 90,000+ siblings in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. On this day, many of your synod staff partners are visiting yours and your neighboring congregations as we continue to celebrate our shared ministry together in this 150th year of the Nebraska Synod. 

I’m grateful to be with you today. To dig into God’s Word and see and hear what God might be inviting us to hear and wonder about. To think with you about what God might be leading us towards as part of God’s work in the world and in our lives as disciples today. And to share a deep word of gratitude for your faithfulness and generous stewardship, for all the ministry that you do here in Southern Nebraska and for all the ministry that you make possible across the state, our country, and around the globe as part of the whole church together. 

https://www.facebook.com/115048400335504/videos/291412086413813/

The video as shared by Zion Lutheran Church in Carleton, Nebraska as recorded in the congregation’s fellowship hall. The sanctuary was painted this past week and so it was decided for the congregation to worship in the fellowship hall while the paint dried.

God’s Story for Us
We find Jesus on the Plain again this week. In fact, he’s still in the middle of his Sermon on the Plain that we heard part of last week as he shared blessings and woes. But Jesus isn’t done with his message. Love. Forgiveness. Justice. Reconciliation. Restoration. Relationships. All of this and more are in Jesus’ sermon. It’s a message about the Kingdom of God. It’s a message that Jesus is sharing about reversal and change, and the hope that God’s people might reconcile with God and with one another. So picking up from last week he says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31, NRSV). This is about reconciliation and mercy. It’s not a transaction, but true transformation that God alone can provide. 

Beautiful Zion Lutheran Church early in the morning in Carleton, Nebraska.

This reconciliation is like that of Joseph with his brothers that we heard about in our first story today. Hopefully none of us have ever had the experience of being sold into slavery and of being abandoned by our family to a whole other country. But I suspect we could all relate with the observation that families are wonderful, but they can also have some drama. Families are all about relationships, and as such, they are also places and opportunities for true reconciliation to happen. Joseph in our first lesson is offering reconciliation and provision for food and really life for the hungry, because he knows that is what God is calling him to do.
 
He knows that God has been about life giving work from the very beginning of creation, and in this story Joseph makes the point that he was led to Egypt so that the people (including his own family) would not fall victim to the famine but would be prepared and have enough in abundance to provide and sustain many. He understands this, and also knows that this is his opportunity to forgive and reconcile, and once again be in relationship with his brothers. He says, “And now do not be distressed or angry… for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Based on Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understands his vocation is part of God’s on-going work of preserving, sustaining and providing life. So he forgives his brothers and does what he can to not only provide for them, but restore his family. This is a beautiful move. One of trust, forgiveness, and love.

Pr. Beth Roegner presiding over communion at Christ’s Lutheran in Davenport, courtesy of the church’s Facebook Live feed.

We’re Part of God’s Work in the World
That is what Jesus is preaching about too. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27, NRSV). He’s not saying condone violence. He’s not saying to look past abuse or give into an abuser. But he is saying that we are called to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, NRSV). He does this because he knows that every Child of God is loved. Every Child of God is called to be loved. Not to be hurt and not to cause hurt. To restore. To reconcile. To stop when falling short or hurting another and ultimately to be forgiven. Not as a transaction but as a transformation of God’s love. Because, Jesus also says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36, NRSV). So, all of this that Jesus is preaching about isn’t just some sense of the golden rule, but about truly being part of God’s work in the world, and God’s mission of mercy and love. 

https://www.facebook.com/ChristsLutheranDavenport/videos/1365878983883089/

The video as shared by Christ’s Lutheran in Davenport. The congregation recently upgraded their cameras and system, but due to technical difficulties the live feed didn’t actually begin until the lector was reading the readings. (Don’t worry, the service up to this point was the same as at Zion, so if you want to see the first part of the worship order, just check out Zion’s worship video above.)

I snuck a photo of the gathered congregation at Christ’s Lutheran during the closing hymn. What a great group, with good conversations after worship, and especially too during the Children’s Sermon time.
Sneaking a picture inside the sanctuary of Zion Lutheran. Even though we gathered in the congregation’s fellowship hall for worship, Pastor Beth gave me a quick tour, and together we saw where the painting had been done nicely on the walls of the sanctuary.

The work of restoring and helping. The work of healing and encouraging. The work of forgiving and embracing. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Ibid.). Now as Jesus preaches on the plain he acknowledges just how hard it can be to live fully into this call. We all fall short at times. We mess up. We hurt one another or ourselves unintentionally or intentionally. We find it hard or nearly impossible to forgive. But the one who doesn’t, is Jesus. We know the rest of the story. He goes to and through the point of the cross for us out of God in Christ’s deep and abundant and abiding love for God’s beloved. For you and for me, and all of God’s children. And thanks be to God for that.

Transformation and Abundance- signs of God’s kingdom breaking in
Jesus concludes his sermon for today by calling us to act. To forgive, so that we might be forgiven. To give, so that we might be given to. To embody and share God’s abundance, so that we too might enjoy it and not hoard it. (Based on Luke 6:37-38, especially). This isn’t about us earning forgiveness. This isn’t about us doing something and earning something. This isn’t even Jesus saying that these are transactional things. Like “do this” so you “can get that.” No. Jesus is preaching about transformation and abundance, and he is inviting all who hear, all who listen, into that transformational life with Christ.
 
This life is pure gift. It’s a meaningful life of discipleship and relationship. But it has its challenges too. We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story. We know what comes next in the gospel story. The joys and hurts, the betrayal and death, the resurrection and ascension. 

Jesus invites us into this life though with God, without us doing or being able to do anything to earn it. Rather, Jesus comes near and offers life abundant. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…” (Luke 6:38, NRSV). This running over, is like what the psalmist says about how one’s cup overflows. It’s abundance over abundance. Where we have enough and more than enough because of God’s love. This is exactly the kind of life that Jesus wants for all of God’s beloved, and which he is inviting us into. It’s not about wealth or being rich, at least in an earthly sense. But for Jesus this is about community, relationship, and embodying God’s abundance here and now. 

Believing and knowing that with God all things are made new, and through God everyone has a place at the table, is known, claimed, and loved. The problems start when we fall into the trap and think that there is exclusion instead of inclusion. That there are some who are worthy and some who are not. No! God’s abundance is for you and for me and for all. God’s forgiveness is for you and for me and for all. God’s life giving work is for you and for me and for all. That is good news. That is pure gift. That is pure grace. That is what it means to see and know that the kingdom of God is breaking into our world, bit by bit through, for, with, and in you.

Our Response and God’s On-going Work
This work is God’s work we could never earn or deserve. The psalmist this week reminds us to “Trust in the Lord, and do good,” and that salvation itself is from God, the one and only who can and does provide it (Psalm 37:3, NRSV; and in full from Psalm 37:1-11.). God’s work again, not ours. But what we get to do, is respond. What we get to do, is be so moved in joy and gratitude for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us, that we can’t help but want to give God our thanks and praise, and then join in with some of God’s on-going work in the world now. And I know you get this. You live it out as the people of God here. I have witnessed it through all of you- through your stewardship and discipleship in action, and that of your partner congregations across the synod. I have felt it, and am so moved by the many ways you embody God’s mercy and love. Really, through you, God’s abundance overflows for your neighbor’s sake. 

Spending time in conversation with the kids during the Children’s Sermon at Christ’s Lutheran, thinking about Jesus’ love and the ways we share God’s love each day. (Courtesy of the church’s Facebook Live broadcast.)

The Apostle Paul in our second story this week talks about the tension of the here and now, the earthly kingdom we’re all a part of, and also the kingdom of God which God in Christ calls to see, and inherit by faithfully leaning in, growing in relationship, knowing that God’s love and presence is real, and sharing that in any and all the ways that we can. We can’t help this. It’s part of who we are, as we “bear the very image of God” (As implied especially by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:42-50, especially 1 Corinthians 15:49).  

The gathered congregation getting ready for worship in the fellowship hall of Zion Lutheran. Here’s one way to get a full front row in a Lutheran church’s worship experience. Use half the fellowship hall, and put the chairs up in such a way that someone will have to sit up front. It was great fun to watch some life-long Lutherans squirm in having to sit in the front row against their very trained instincts to long for further back in the sanctuary!

There’s something powerful when you remember that you are created in the image of God. That your child is created in the Image of God. That your grandchild, your neighbor, the stranger across the street and around the world. Each and everyone are created in the very image of God. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. You see, my wife Allison is also a pastor serving a congregation north of Fremont, and we have two little girls- Caroline who is three going on four, and Cora who is one and has reached the stage where she is running and walking everywhere but doesn’t quite know yet how to slow down without falling or running into something. It’s so much fun to be dad to these two little ones, especially as they figure out who they are, show love to others, and just start to really show their unique personalities. And to know that both of these beautiful little girls are created in the Image of God… well, that is humbling. And it puts life into perspective for so many ways for me their dad, and in my own ministry. I wonder if you all might relate to that? 

Looking into the eyes of a loved one, have you ever thought, hmm… maybe I’m staring at the Image of God? What might God be inviting me and us into now? 

Distributing communion in worship with Zion. A Pastor and Deacon together, presiding and assisting. It was a good day to be with God’s people in Carleton and Davenport.

Jesus in his preaching on the plain is inviting all who listen into a life of transformation with God. He’s inviting all who listen to join with God in some of God’s on-going work and mission in the world. And he is inviting us now, today, to be a part of it as we are all part of the Body of Christ together. As the One Body of Christ we see those in our midst, in our communities, in our world, and we not only see one another, we begin to see one another as a sibling in Christ, a partner in the ministry of the gospel, a fellow heir of God’s promises, and also deep down knowing that each and every beloved Child of God also bears the very image of God.

And it’s when we remember this, that it begins to make even more sense why Jesus preaches like he does in his Sermon on the Plain. He is calling us together. He is calling us to see and know and love one another. He knows there may be hurts among us. He knows there may be differences among us. But what holds us together and far surpasses any difference and hurt, is the mercy and love of Christ which makes it possible for you and me to also love and forgive as God does. And it’s through this love and mercy, and in deep gratitude and joy for what God has done, that we can’t help but join in with God in some of God’s on-going work in the world today. 

Pr. Beth’s husband, Jack Roegner, using the new high-powered live feed system at Christ’s Lutheran and preparing to train a few other people during worship on how to use it. It’s directly connected to the sanctuary sound system, and includes multiple camera feeds in the sanctuary. It was good to see both Pr. Beth and Jack, as I had not yet met either them in person as they moved to Nebraska during the pandemic. Pr. Beth is currently serving in her first call, and Jack is serving now on the synod’s Outreach Table which I relate to as the Director for Mission, Innovation and Stewardship.

Your Church in Action
Work like quilting and sending quilts through Lutheran World Relief around the world to keep other Children of God warm at night. Work like supporting missionaries and sharing the Good News near and far. Work like raising up new leaders of the faith, so that all might know that God loves them, is with them, and is for them. I know this to be most true through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. Mission share is the undesignated offering that your congregation shares with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe and literally changes lives.

Through it you support and raise up new leaders of the faith- pastors like your Pastor Beth, deacons like myself, and parish ministry associates who are trained to walk with all of God’s people and serve alongside one another. Through your mission share 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 it you spread the good news of the Gospel by sending missionaries around the world, and supporting new and renewing ministries and other resources right here all across the Big Red State. And through your mission share, you literally are the hands and feet of Christ, sharing mercy and love through the many serving arm partners of the church who meet our neighbors where they are at, and walk with them, like Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mosaic, and many more. There is so much that you do and help make possible by being part of this church. Thank you!

Sharing the word and saying thank you too.

On behalf of your siblings in Christ across the synod, and around the world, thank you! Thank you for your faithful discipleship as you follow Jesus’ call to love and serve your neighbor and join in with God’s mission in the world. Thank you for your generous stewardship to help meet your neighbor’s needs and spread the good news of what God has done for you. And thank you for all that you do here in Carleton/Davenport.

What’s Next?
No one ever said the life of discipleship would be easy. Jesus certainly didn’t in his sermon on the plain. But what it is, what this life together that Jesus invites us into is, is a life of transformation. One of love and mercy. Especially where the world might divide and blame,  Jesus calls us to forgive, love, be merciful and do good, expecting nothing in return. To take care of each other. This is what God’s mission is that we are all invited into. Into God’s work and gift of overflowing abundance, mercy, and love. Where lives are restored, and people are reconciled, redeemed, and brought back together.

It’s not easy work. But it’s the work of the gospel, which Jesus calls and invites us into. We’re not alone in it. And there will be times we may come up short. But that’s precisely when we seek forgiveness and mercy. And repent, and try again. Knowing that God’s love is real for you and for me. And that because God is with us in this, we have enough and we are enough for the work for which God calls us. Thank you for being part of this life and ministry together. And thanks be to God for calling us all to follow, and making this life together not only possible, but so deeply meaningful and beautiful. Amen.  

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