“God’s Life Changing Love is Real- Thanks be to God”- a stewardship sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 28C)

Outside of beautiful Bethany Lutheran Church in Ruskin after worship on a very pleasant, beautiful and sunny October Sunday.

It was a joy to be with God’s people gathered as First Presbyterian Church in Superior, Nebraska and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ruskin, Nebraska on Sunday October 9, 2022. Thank you Pastor Lori Kitzing for the invitation and to both congregations for the warm welcomes. Before and after worship, there were great conversations about stewardship, mission, and ministry at both churches and I am grateful to have been with them. What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from based on the appointed readings, especially: Luke 17:11-19, with references to 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; and 2 Timothy 2:8-15. The sermon was slightly different for both churches, and I will try and notate the differences within the text as follows. If you would like to follow along with virtual worship from Bethany Lutheran, you may do so here.

A video recording of the sermon at Bethany Lutheran courtesy of Pr. Lori Kitzing.

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

Outside bright and early with the sunrise at First Presbyterian Church in Superior.

First Presbyterian: Good morning First Presbyterian! It’s so good to be with you! Thank you Pastor Lori for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring you greetings today from your full communion partners and siblings in Christ in the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and also from Nebraska Synod Bishop Scott Johnson. In being with you, I am excited to reflect on what God might be inviting us to see and think about, to think some with you about stewardship, as well as to thank you for all that you do as God’s people here in Superior and as part of God’s on-going work in the world today.

Bethany: Good morning Bethany! It’s so good to be with you! Thank you Pastor Lori for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring you greetings today from Bishop Scott Johnson and the entire Nebraska Synod staff, as well as from your 90,000+ siblings in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. In being with you, I am excited to reflect on what God might be inviting us to see and think about, to think some with you about stewardship, as well as to thank you for all that you do as God’s people here in Ruskin and as part of God’s on-going work in the world today.

Digging into the Scriptures
Speaking of giving thanks, our gospel story this week picks up right where we left off last week. Jesus has been teaching about faith, discipleship, and pointing to the Kingdom of God, and today he continues on his journey to Jerusalem. It’s getting ever closer, and he knows what lies ahead. But before he gets there, he’s determined to do all that he can to bring God’s people together. To reconcile. To heal. To call God’s people to repent and turn towards God. To see one’s neighbors and be moved to mercy and to show love. To welcome those often ignored by others in society, and show up with and for them. To do all that he can to help God’s people see that God’s life changing and lifesaving love is real. Which brings us to the story today.

Taking a quick picture before worship at Bethany. Don’t be fooled. There were plenty more people in worship than this. I just didn’t get a picture of the whole congregation. As I was assisting with serving communion, I think I served 40-50 people, and at least 20 people stayed for conversation after worship. It was a wonderful morning!

Jesus is on the way, between Samaria and Galilee.[1] On his way he enters a village, and he is found and approached by a group of ten lepers. People who have been outcasts in their community, ignored, pushed to the side, avoided. People that you and I in our daily lives today might try and not make eye contact with, or to ignore as best as possible. But these lepers we read approach Jesus. They see him. They keep their distance but call out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”[2] Jesus’ reputation precedes him. These ten people have heard, good or bad, about this Jesus of Nazareth. They have heard stories of this man of God, maybe they even know that he is the Son of God. But now is there chance to witness and experience.

Jesus doesn’t ignore them. He sees them and he acts. Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”[3] So they go and do this. And as they go on their way, they were made clean.[4] That’s it. No fancy spoken prayers. No spitting in the mud and touching one’s face or skin. No large proclamation for the whole community to see. No. But it’s a healing story that hearkens back to the healing of Naaman we hear about in our first lesson from 2nd Kings.[5] It’s not a fancy healing. It’s not a seemingly extraordinary thing. But God shows up.

Inside the sanctuary of First Presbyterian a little before worship. A good and hearty group of disciples, of which more than ten came for conversation about mission, ministry, and stewardship before worship during the 8am hour.

And God’s healing, restoring, and reconciling work is done. Yet that’s not the end of the story. Let me ask you a question. If you were suddenly healed, restored to health, or welcomed to be more fully who you are, by others around you in your community or family, what would you do? What might you say? We have the benefit of knowing this story, and because of that we can also understand why this story is one of the stories we often hear at Thanksgiving, because of what happens next.

Joyful Response
While on their way, the ten were made clean. But then we hear, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”[6] Praise God. God’s healing and saving work has been witnessed, done, and seen. This one man has returned to the one who has healed and really saved him, and is saying thank you with all that he can. His joy and gratitude are real and genuine. You can just picture it, right? And that’s a truth for all of us as disciples and stewards. Why do we do what we do, as God’s people? First and foremost, because we are overjoyed, grateful, and so thankful for what God has done, will do, and promises to do for all of God’s beloved.

This one Samaritan man has shown us the right and really only proper response for all that God in Christ does- thanks and praise, joy and gratitude. He is living out the words of the psalmist which we read today, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart…”[7] This man does this and then some when he comes back to Jesus and falls on his face letting his emotions out in all their beauty and authenticity.

I saw this in the narthex area at First Presbyterian, and I had to take a picture. It’s such a good lesson for life and stewardship. We do what we can through our service and sharing God’s love, because that is who we are created to be- and we can’t help but share the good news of God’s life-changing and life-saving love.

I suspect Jesus was glad to be thanked, and glad to witness the man’s response of joy and gratitude. His life has l changed in an instant because of God’s love and presence. But Jesus wonders understandably, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”[8] This isn’t Jesus othering people, or trying to divide them. But he is right to wonder, why only one of ten people healed that day came back with thanks and praise. Ten percent. What happened to the other nine, or 90% who were healed? What was their response?

It’s not lost on Jesus either that, presumably the other nine people who were healed were locals, in the context he was in that day, Jewish people. Yet, it was the one who truly was “other,” and not from there, the Samaritan, who gave thanks. Perhaps it hearkens back to Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan too.[9]  Jesus again is expanding our understanding of God’s people as not just being one people from one place. As not being “us and them”. But rather an all of us together. Called to be together. Called to learn from one another, and to be in relationship with one another because the identity of Child of God transcends all that might divide. So, God’s people in witnessing this act today, may well have their eyes, ears, hearts, and minds opened to God’s creative, healing, redeeming, reconciling, and saving work for them. And they may begin to understand more fully that it’s not limited to just a few. That from each other, from one who may not look, sound, or think or believe even quite the same way that you or I do, we all might learn what it truly means to give God glory and praise and to lean in deeply as a steward and disciple.

One of the many examples of stewardship in action I witnessed, was this cart collecting donations for the local food pantry.

What is Stewardship?
Jesus finally sends the man on his way saying, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”[10] The “made you well,” there literally translates as “saved you.” Thanks be to God! For God’s life-changing and life-saving love is real and has been witnessed in this story today.

Now I’ve alluded to stewardship quite a bit, but I haven’t actually really explained what I mean by this somewhat old churchy word. For me stewardship starts with an understanding best articulated by the psalmist in Psalm 24 where the psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it.”[11] That means really that you are God’s. I am God’s. All Children of God are God’s. And all that makes us each who we are, as the unique, beautiful, known, claimed, and loved Child of God that we are, are God’s too. So really all that we have and all that we are, are God’s. And God entrusts us with all that makes us who we are, so that we might live full, meaningful and abundant lives, but also so that our neighbors might too. So God entrusts us with all that we have, and all that we are: our finances, money, stuff, assets and possessions; also our health, minds, bodies, and souls; and our strengths, passions, vocations, opportunities, and relationships; our dreams, questions, and ideas; and all of creation that is entrusted into our care back at the beginning of Genesis. All of this and more is who we are, and is also, God’s.

Stewardship involves recognizing this, and then leaning in. Giving thanks and praise joyfully like the Samaritan in today’s story, and then as Jesus says, going on our way living out our faith as stewards and disciples. Being so swept up in joy and gratitude for what God has done, that we can’t help but share in that life for the sake of others and join in with God in some of God’s on-going work in the world now today. Taking the words of the second lesson we heard read to heart, that “If we have died with Jesus, we will also live with him.”[12] And so we do. We respond to all that God has done: As we proclaim the Good News of God and lean into and grow as disciples. As we share what God entrusts with all those that might be in need. As we meet our neighbors where they are at, as signs of Christ’s love. And we do all of this, with the deep and earnest hope that all might know what we know as we gather together as God’s people to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and that God’s life-changing and life-saving love is real.

I didn’t do a good job of taking pictures during the conversation/meeting times, mainly because I was leading them. But here are a few stragglers still engaged in great conversation afterwards at First Presbyterian.

Saying Thank You
Perhaps the most important lesson in this story is that God’s life changing and life saving love is real. The second, is probably the importance of saying thank you. The Samaritan shows us the way in our story today. And as he does, I want you to hear thank you, from me. Thank you for your faithful discipleship, digging in as God’s people to grow in your understanding of God’s promises and Good News. For continuing to wonder about what God might be calling forth and inviting next. Thank you for your generous stewardship, as you respond so faithfully always doing what you can to support God’s mission near and far. For all you do in your various vocations. Especially this time of year- thank you to all of you farmers and farm families working diligently to bring in the harvest. And thank you all for being God’s people here for your neighbors in Superior/Ruskin and all of southern Nebraska. You literally are Christ’s hands and feet, and that matters.

First Presbyterian: For the way you serve your neighbors through service projects and care for their needs. Especially during the holiday seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas to come- perhaps again through adopting a local family in need of love and support. For the hamburger feeds and bake sales you sponsor and provide to make a difference here in town. For the food pantry provisions to help feed your hungry neighbors. For the ways you partner with your siblings in Christ at Bethany Lutheran in Ruskin. And for all the ways perhaps that you are discerning right now about how God might be calling and inviting you to see your neighbors and to come alongside them with your various gifts and strengths, and to meet them where they are at as signs of God’s love here and now.

First Presbyterian: There is so much that you do and make possible as the disciples who are First Presbyterian  Church here in Superior. On behalf of your siblings in Christ, across Nebraska and all around the world- thank you. Thank you! Thank you!!

Bethany: Through the way you engaged your community as part of “God’s Work, Our Hands” Day a month ago as you lived out the truth of this gospel story by writing thank you letters to members of the community for all that they do through their various vocations. Through the way you cared for your community and God’s creation by participating in roadside cleanup. Through the way you care for your neighbors around the world through prayer and support, especially as you continue to hold Ukrainian refugees and the work of the whole church in meeting them and caring for them. And also, through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share.

It always makes me smile when I see a congregation proudly sharing their mission share thank you certificates as a sign of their participation in the work of the whole church together. Thank you Bethany and First Presbyterian for all that you do and make possible!

Bethany: 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 your mission share you help raise up new leaders in the faith who are trained to walk alongside all of God’s people as pastors, deacons, parish ministry associates, and other leaders helping all of God’s children know that God’s love is real. Through it, you help youth and young adults know that they are loved and known deeply by God, in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling and Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry. 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 at home all across the Big Red State. And through it you meet your neighbors where they are at, you walk with them, and respond to their needs, through the church’s many serving arm partners like Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, and ELCA World Hunger.

Bethany: There is so much that you do and make possible as the disciples who are Bethany Lutheran Church here in Ruskin. On behalf of your siblings in Christ, across the synod and all around the world- thank you. Thank you! Thank you!!

Pr. Lori Kitzing, presiding at communion, and offering a reminder of God’s promises, provision, and presence- as God in Christ is with you, for you, and loves you.

Putting It Altogether
Jesus was on the way, on the road to Jerusalem between Samaria and Galilee. And then, ten lepers saw him. The rest is history. God’s saving and healing work is real. God’s promises are true- as we know most clearly through Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. God in Christ is with you. For you. And loves you. For this, we can’t help but give our thanks and praise. Thanks be to God, and thank you for all that you do as God’s faithful people. Amen.

References and Citations:
[1] Luke 17:11, NRSV.
[2] Luke 17:13, NRSV.
[3] Luke 17:14, NRSV.
[4] Ibid.
[5] 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, NRSV.
[6] Luke 17:15-16, NRSV.
[7] Psalm 111:1, NRSV.
[8] Luke 17:17-18, NRSV.
[9] As described in Luke 10:25-37.
[10] Luke 17:19, NRSV.
[11] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
[12] 2 Timothy 2:11, NRSV.

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