“Doing What You Can with what God Entrusts” – a stewardship sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 27C)

Outside of beautiful First Lutheran in Lincoln amid the fun of the congregation’s fall festival on a perfect warm early October Sunday afternoon.

It was a joy to be with the good people of First Lutheran in Lincoln on Sunday October 2, 2022. Thank you to Pastor Erin Heidelberger and to the whole stewardship committee for the invitation and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. It was a packed day including the congregation’s commitment Sunday, building dedication, and even the congregation’s first fall festival. I was grateful to be invited to be with the congregation. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. It is based especially on the appointed readings for Lectionary 27C, including: Luke 17:5-10, Psalm 37; and 2 Timothy 1:1:1-14, as well as the congregation’s stewardship focus passage from 2 Corinthians 9:8-12. The livestream recording of the first service from First Lutheran Church can be viewed here, especially if you would like to enjoy the congregation’s jazz worship, and/or watch or listen to the sermon instead of reading it here. https://fb.watch/fWP3ACYFWu/

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

“My Story, Our Story, God’s Story.” This was a beautiful story wall to witness representing the different stories that are a part of this congregation, and that it is a part of as part of God’s on-going story in the world today.

Good morning First Lutheran. It’s so great to be with you today. Thank you Pastor Erin, Vicar Erick, and to the whole stewardship committee for the invitation to be with you, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring you greetings today from Bishop Scott Johnson, Deacon Sunni Richardson and the whole synod staff, as well as from your 90,000+ siblings in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod.

Now, what a day to celebrate it is here at First Lutheran! The dedication and completion of years of work on this building to better live out your congregation’s mission as part of God’s mission, as a sign of true welcome and hospitality. Gathering with the whole community for your congregation’s first fall festival. Committing to your plans as stewards and disciples as part of this faith community. And giving thanks for all that you do and make possible as part of God’s work in the world. That’s a lot. Oh yeah, and we should probably think a bit too about the great stories we just heard read.

God’s Word for us Today
It kind of seems like Jesus is throwing the kitchen sink at us today in our gospel lesson. He’s teaching to the disciples in what is really now the last phase of his journey to Jerusalem about the life of discipleship, and especially the Kingdom of God. He knows what lies ahead. Time is short, so he uses every last minute he can to teach about, point to, and proclaim the good news of God. So when confronted by the apostles with the declaration, “Increase our faith!”[1] Jesus naturally does what he does best. He tells parables. Stories with multiple possible meanings, which may or may not directly answer the request or the question he has been confronted with. So he talks about the smallest of things, “faith like a mustard seed” which grows through obedience and nurturing just as one’s faith does. It sounds beautiful and hopeful. But we have to be careful.

The view from behind, as people gather for worship in the beautiful sanctuary of First Lutheran Church.

This isn’t Jesus saying, “just pray harder, and all will go well.” This isn’t some fluffy televangelist speaking. This is Jesus. So he naturally keeps going, and as he does he really makes it sound impossible because he goes on to say that one who has the faith of a mustard seed could say to a mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the in the sea…”[2] This is different than Matthew’s version of a story about a mustard seed. Luke here is coupling together a number of insights from Jesus about faith. Which in total ends with this seemingly harsh word, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”[3]

There is a stewardship truth here, which we will come back to. But when I hear this declaration, I actually hear this as a word of grace. Theologian and scholar Justo Gonzalez writes, “what from one perspective appear to be harsh words, pointing to every disciple’s failure if measured by the law, are actually words of grace, pointing to the love of the Master even for these unworthy slaves.”[4] In that sense, Jesus knows how hard the life of being a disciple is and will be. And his words, though words of challenge, are also words of comfort. Because in their sum total with the larger story that we know of God’s love and grace, we recognize that Jesus is telling us it’s not all up to us as it is God who is at work and walks with us, and who calls and invites us to join in with God. And through this we know that there is a place for everyone at the table.

We’re Called into this Life Together as Disciples and Stewards
The words from the epistle help unpack this. We are reminded by the author of 2nd Timothy that the gift of God is within us, through our very identity as being a beloved, baptized, claimed, seen, and known Child of God.[5] In living with that claim and identity, we are called into this life together as God’s people and as a steward and disciple of God’s love. And we are instructed to, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard…in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” and to “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”[6] God has entrusted us with the Good News about God’s love made known to us most clearly through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Good News of Jesus’ life-changing and life-saving love! There’s responsibility with this act of entrusting. We’re responsible for sharing the Good News through all that we do. But there’s more. God has really entrusted us with all that we have and all that we are.

Listening to presentations from the architecture and project teams, and the building committee of First Lutheran as they celebrate and dedicate the facility’s renovations to be more welcoming and accessible.

There’s a stewardship truth here which we really should name aloud. It comes from Psalm 24, where the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”[7] It’s the recognition that all that we have, and all that we are, are God’s. That means that you are God’s. I am God’s, and all Children of God, are God’s. And together we are entrusted with all that makes us each the unique Child of God that we are, and called to steward these gifts. Things that include: our money, wealth, and possessions; our health, hearts, minds, bodies and souls; our vocations, opportunities, and relationships; our strengths, passions, dreams, ideas, and questions; and all of creation that has been entrusted to our care back at the beginning of Genesis.

All of this and more is God’s, which God entrusts to us and into our care. God entrusts all of this so that life might go well and that we might live abundantly, but also so that together through us, all of God’s beloved might be cared for and have what they need to live life well. The writer of 2nd Timothy reminds us that we are to guard these things as gifts of God, but not to hoard them. To guard so that they might be used properly, and even shared as God invites and as God’s children need.

The psalmist today also reminds us of who God is and what God promises. The psalmist reiterates the promises of God’s provision and abundance, that which is at the heart of the meaning of the law- so that life might go well for God’s people. We hear “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.”[8] And that, “those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.”[9] This isn’t a prosperity gospel type thing. This is God saying to all disciples, come and follow me. Life won’t always be easy. There will be ups and downs. There will be challenges. We know this as followers of the cross after all. But we are reminded that we are not alone. That God walks with us. And we walk with each other as God’s people. And as we do this, we are invited and able to do, what we can, with that which we have been entrusted with, and with God’s help we are enough.

You Embody This as Stewards of God’s Love
There’s a lot packed into these stories this week. Far too much to get to in one sermon. But we also hear these hard, challenging, and comforting words in conversation with your congregation’s stewardship theme passage from 2 Corinthians 9:8-12. Paul writes, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”[10] Abundance is real! Paul is saying as clearly as possible that God provides. And God does all of this out of God’s deep abiding and abundant love. A love which reconciles and brings God’s people together. A love which calls us to see and to know and grow into relationship with one another. A love that fills us and moves us so deeply that we can’t help but give God thanks and praise for all that God has done, will do, and promises to do for us. All which we could never do, earn, or deserve ourselves. And as we are swept up in joy and gratitude, for all that God has done we join in with God in some of God’s on-going work in the world here and now.

One of the many ministry initiatives that First Lutheran is currently supporting- yet another example of stewardship in action among God’s faithful people gathered here.

First Lutheran, you live and embody this. It’s deep in your DNA and story as a congregation which has long been “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”[11] It’s been part of your theme and focus over the past month as you thought about stewardship and had a lot of fun doing it. I know, I have seen the video proof. And today is a culmination of this focus as you make a commitment as part of your on-going life together as disciples and stewards. As you continue to proclaim that you are God’s people here and now. Not beholden to a mortgage and a building which have been beautifully renovated as signs of welcome and accessibility, but a people who made an investment in this facility with the purpose of growing even more deeply as disciples and serving God’s people in Lincoln. A faithful congregation who meets its neighbors where they are at and is actively growing in relationship with them. One that shows up and really is Christ’s hands and feet. And all of this, points to a reminder that you are part of God’s mission in ministry here and now, and in the larger world.

After the second service, it was time for the Fall Festival. The food trucks had arrived, and the people were gathering. I was amazed at how the space outside the welcome center changed so quickly and completely between the start and end of the second worship service. What a great day!

You are part of the larger church too. Not just a church here in Lincoln off 70th street. But also a leader in partnership and collaboration for the sake of your 234 partner congregations in this synod, and your neighbors all around the globe. Your own Sharon Hardel co-leads the Nebraska Synod Middle School Gathering team. You partnered with your siblings in Christ at St. Andrew’s and Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Lincoln to provide Vacation Bible School this summer, providing an outreach and sign of God’s love to youth in your many neighborhoods. You have long been a supporter of the work of Lutheran Family Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, including by welcoming refugees from Afghanistan over the past year. Some of these things have been budgeted, but not all of them. And every time you step up, you are yet again showing that God’s love is real.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!
There is so much you do and help make possible as part of the larger church. Thank you! Now, I know this to be most true personally because of your 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.

Through your mission share you raise up new pastors, deacons, parish ministry associates, and other leaders of the faith who are trained and equipped to walk alongside God’s people and proclaim God’s promises. Through it, you help youth and young adults know of God’s deep love for them, no questions asked, in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry including right here in Lincoln at the Lutheran Center at UNL, and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling. Through your mission share, you spread the good news of the Gospel by sending missionaries around the globe, and supporting new and renewing ministries right here all across the Big Red State. And through it, you help meet your neighbor’s needs through the many serving arm partners of the church like Lutheran Disaster Response which is already on the ground responding to Hurricane Ian, ELCA World Hunger, Mosaic, and so many more. There is so much that you do and that you help make possible. Thank you!

Pastor Erin and Vicar Eric preparing for communion.

On behalf of your siblings in Christ near and far, thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your generous stewardship. Thank you for your faithful discipleship. Thank you for all that you do here in Lincoln as God’s people. And thank you, for continuing to follow Jesus as he leads us all to not only see our neighbors in need, but to grow in relationship with and walk together as God’s people.

What’s Next?
Jesus closes his teaching today by saying that when all is said and done, we are to say, “we have done only what we ought to have done.”[12] This is a truth about stewardship. But it’s good news. For we are enough for this task. Because God walks with you in it and you are not alone. Because God is for you, as we’ll hear again at this table in a few moments. And because God loves you, which is why God invites you to join in with God in this work and to lean into this life together as disciples. Thank you, for answering Christ’s call, and thanks be to God who makes all of this and everything else possible. Amen.

Citations and References:

[1] Luke 17:5, NRSV.
[2] Luke 17:6, NRSV.
[3] Luke 17:10, NRSV.
[4] Justo Gonzalez, Luke, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 204.
[5] 2 Timothy 1:6, NRSV.
[6] 2 Timothy 1:13-14, NRSV.
[7] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
[8] Psalm 37:3, NRSV.
[9] Psalm 37:9, NRSV.
[10] 2 Corinthians 9:8, NRSV.
[11] This is First Lutheran’s current mission statement and claim according to the congregation’s website.
[12] Luke 17:10, NRSV.

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