This Week’s Links

Internet1This Week’s Links used to be a staple on the blog, and it is my hope that they return to their usual Tuesday rhythm as we enter the summer. They are slimmer, but hopefully just as helpful. To make sense of some of the things that I have read and found interesting, I have grouped them in the following categories: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Stewardship; and Vocation. I hope you enjoy this edition of the links.

Church and Ministry Thought & Practice
The Lutheran World Federation Assembly concluded last week in Namibia, but not before “Nigerian Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus was elected LWF President.” Blessings and congratulations Bishop!

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Bishop Brian Maas knocking on the door of St. Cecilia’s Cathedral in Omaha.

What happens when a Lutheran Bishop and Roman Catholic Archbishop get together? They pray and worship, commemorating the Reformation of course.

If you happen to be in Omaha on Thursday, I invite you to join me in an “Ascension Day Eucharist” at Kountze Memorial Lutheran. Bishop Brian Maas from the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA will preside, and Bishop Scott Barker of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska will preach.

Have you thought about the possibilities for social enterprises in ministry? Last month Matt Overton shared this intriguing look and explanation about “Why I started a social enterprise at my church.” What might this idea look like in your context?

In exciting ministry news from Nebraska, Tammy Real-McKeighan wrote about the creation of the “Faith Ambassadors Parish,” a merging of five congregations choosing to go into collaboration to create a new parish just north of where I live.

If you are in ministry and imagining new ways to have children in worship, then I encourage you to check out this post by Traci Smith about “Church ‘Pray-grounds:’ Eight Stories and Inspiring Examples #kidmin.

Bishop Mike Rinehart shared a post that’s particularly helpful for young ministry leaders, “10 Financial Tips for Young Leaders.”

Friend and pastor Juliet Hampton shared this look by Michael O’Connor at interfaith work in the Omaha area, as well as a look at the growth of the Muslim faith and population in the region.

Leadership Thought & Practice
Friend, professor, and now Dean at the Drucker School, Dr. Jenny Darroch wrote and shared about, “The Drucker School of Thought: Distilling Drucker’s Work into Five Key Principles.” The principles highlighted include: a belief in the importance of a functioning society; a focus on people; a focus on performance; a focus on self-management; and a practice-based, transdisciplinary, and lifelong approach to learning. Do you have any remaining questions as to why I’m such a fan of Drucker’s work?

Millennials
In a news story that could affect thousands of people, and perhaps even a whole generation of servant leaders (of whom, many are Millennials), Jordan Weissman wrote last week about how United States Secretary of Education, “Betsy DeVos wants to kill a Major Student Loan Forgiveness Program.” This is unacceptable, and should be rejected across the board.

Neighbor Love

Dr. Torvend
When you are gifted to attend a workshop put on by one of your favorite professors from PLU, of course you take a selfie with them! (Dr. Torvend with Allison and me last January)

Friend and professor Rev. Dr. Samuel Torvend has authored a new article that was recently published in the Oxford Religion Encyclopedia, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, “Martin Luther’s Teaching and Practice of Charity and Social Ethics.” The article is available currently for free download, so be sure and check it out.

Also in celebration of the Reformation, check out “The Annotated Luther Summer Sale.”

Pastor Jennifer Crist shared some ideas about “Practicing Advocacy with Communities of Hope.”

In the midst of on-going discussion and worries regarding budgets and healthcare, Alexandra Stone reported in Omaha about how “Families are fearful as state cuts millions in funding disability service providers,” particularly affected is Mosaic, one of the great social ministries and serving arms of the church.

Pastor and author Jason Micheli reflected about, “What to say about God when there’s nothing to say.”

Friend and pastor Melissa Melnick shared an update and reflection in “Sending,” and honestly reflected about and in the midst of her grieving the loss of her son Chris. (Melissa, we continue to hold you and your family in prayer and love in Nebraska.)

Stewardship
Is the idea “more than enough” helpful for thinking about or reframing abundance? Friend Adam Copeland shared this post by Alex Benson. In thinking about this question, I greatly appreciate Pastor Bonnie Wilcox’s response to my initial question on Twitter, when she wrote last week that, “It speaks to the middle class at best. Not to those on limited incomes, esp. seniors.” What do you think?

Are you preaching this week? If so, here are some thoughts, ideas, and nuggets for consideration for “Preaching on Stewardship- May 28, 2017.”

Friend and professor Dr. Ron Byrnes asked, “How do you decide whom to give to?” See Ron’s thoughts, and join the conversation about giving.

Friend Marcia Shetler shared some great ideas on the COMPASS blog, writing about the importance of “Understanding Our Relationship with Money.” And in a related post in that series, Beryl Jantzi wrote and asked, “What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?

Vocation
I have been serving as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod for just over a year now. Looking back at the first year, and to the year ahead, I shared some reflections about how I feel “Beyond Grateful.”

Congratulations to friend Ed Grogan, who was elected the new chair of the Board of Regents at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).

Speaking of PLU, as we are in the midst of graduation and commencement season, Kari Plog shares a look at four students’ stories in “Commencement 2017: Lutes prepare for life after college.” Thanks to friend Carrie Gubsch for first sharing this post with me.


That will conclude this week’s edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them, and that you are enjoying the new rhythm to the blog. If you have ideas for me, please let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading and being part of the conversation, and blessings on your week! -TS

Image Credits: The links and Bishop Maas knocking.

Beyond Grateful

The month of May marks one year of serving in my current call. As I think about this, there are two words that surmise how I am feeling a year in. Beyond grateful.

Serving as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship is a blessing. Each day is new and exciting. Each day brings new experiences, new learning, new conversations, new ideas, and new stories. Serving in this role is truly a beautiful melding of my interests, passions, and educational preparation.

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Hearing stories of gratitude, like in a Thanksgiving children’s sermon as pictured here, is a joy for me.

Getting to hear and share stories of faith in action each day is a gift. I genuinely believe I have the best call in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America because people entrust their stories to me. They share them, their hopes, their ideas, their questions, and then they allow me to share them with others. I hear stories of generosity, and of responding to God’s calls and promises in amazing and unique ways each day and week. And I get to work with so many wonderful colleagues, peers, and ministry leaders who take such joy in their ministry and calls, and live with such grace towards those they serve alongside and accompany on life’s journey.

Being a Deacon in the ELCA is a joy too. As a “Word and Service” minister, I am invited to preach and help lead worship. But my call is a bit different, because I get to focus on being a resource and partner around holistic and year-round stewardship. This has led me into so many different contexts and congregations, and yet, I know I have barely scratched the surface of seeing all of the amazing examples of ministry that are the Nebraska Synod.

As I have traveled across Nebraska I have visited: Adams, Ashland, Aurora, Blair, Central City, Filley, Fontanelle, Fremont, Grand Island, Holdrege, Hooper, Kearney, Lincoln, Malmo, Mead, North Platte, Omaha, Plymouth, Schuyler, Scottsbluff, Scribner, Seward, Superior, Syracuse, Tekamah, Valley, Wayne, West Point, and Wilber just to name a few places. I have seen the great work of serving arms like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry and others in action. There are so many stories to tell, and way more stories to hear in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. 

As a rostered minister of the church, I also am receiving Spiritual Direction. It is such a joy to have someone who deeply listens, helps me reflect and process, and wonder deeply about what God might be up to. If you are a rostered minister who doesn’t receive spiritual direction, I can’t encourage you enough. You will grow more deeply in your faith and sense of God’s presence.

I am grateful for so much. For all of you for your support and partnership, and for everyone who continues to welcome and inspire me.

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I am grateful for my many colleagues, including Pastor Juliet Hampton pictured here after installing my wife Allison as pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. Of course, I am grateful for Allison, the best partner in life. And I am also grateful for my parents (pictured here) and all my family, and for great friends like Carrie (in the upper right).

I am grateful for the most amazing team of colleagues whom I serve alongside and who constantly inspire me with their sense of call, passion for being a part of God’s work in the world, their efforts for the sake of Christ’s church, their collegiality, and friendship.

I am grateful to be a part of a nearly 160 year old congregation who is as young and vibrant as any congregation, whose energy is infectious and who has continued to welcome Allison as their pastor and myself as the pastor’s spouse so warmly.

Most of all I am grateful for the best partner in life and ministry, who continues to amaze me with her grace, selflessness, love, honesty, humor, and authenticity in call and faith.

As I embark upon year two in this call, here are at least five things I have learned and will make a priority in the year ahead:

1. Keep Listening

If I have learned anything in my different experiences of ministry and work so far, it is that listening is essential. This means active listening to others as they share their stories, their dreams, ideas, questions, hopes… But it also means quiet listening to the Holy Spirit. For me, this often happens while behind the piano (or even the organ), or while out for a walk along the corn fields.

2. Keep Learning 

There is always more to learn, discover, and wonder about. The most inspiring people I know are constantly asking questions, dreaming, and wondering about what God might be up to and calling us to be a part of. I believe life long learning is essential, but it is also a choice. You either choose to continue to live in wonder and discovery, or you don’t. Most of the people I meet in ministry are in this mode. The ones who aren’t are often the ones who seem to run into problems. I never want to be the person who thinks they have learned just about all they will ever know or be able to learn.

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This sign at Spirit of Grace Lutheran still makes me smile, as we remember that we are all Children of God. 

3. Embody the gratitude authentically

Everywhere I go, and in everything I do, I try to make no secret that I am thankful and grateful to be there. This year, I want to continue to do this, but maybe even more intentionally. In a stewardship sense, thanking is one of the big three components, so if I am going to talk about this, it’s essential that I embody and live it too. What might embodying gratitude look like for you?

4. Keep Sharing

As others entrust me with these stories, I will continue to share them in preaching, writing, pictures, and more. Just as thanking is a part of stewardship, telling the story of faith and God at work is a part of it too. Because through these stories we invite others to share, and to be a part of this shared work, God’s work of building up the kingdom together. And it is with these stories, that we ask others to join us.

5. Build in time each day or week to remember why you do what you do

I believe this is essential. Life moves so fast, that we can get caught up with just about anything. Some of these are certainly important. Others might be “rabbit holes,” or as we like to refer to in the Nebraska Synod, “squirrels” which distract us from the big picture. To help me with this, I give myself time for reflection and devotion. But I also keep on my desk, my letter of call, a sign of the deeper sense of my role as a Director for Stewardship and Deacon, and the promises and vows made in accepting this call and living out the life as a Baptized Child of God.

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The beauty of Nebraska, and our backyard in Spring. With the cross in the distance, it helps keep me grounded and remembering why we’re here, and why I am doing what I am doing. 

Those are five things I am holding up in the year ahead.

What are you grateful for? And what are you holding up as a goal or priority in the months or year ahead?

What’s in a Name?

When you log into Facebook, and it reminds you that today is your Baptismal birthday, I have to admit, that’s kind of cool. It’s little strange, given that Facebook wasn’t around then, but still, it’s kind of cool. 

This has me thinking today about the importance of names and the idea of being claimed. Those of you who know me well, know that I prefer going by my full first name, Timothy. Today, in celebration of my baptismal birthday, I would like to share a few reasons why this matters for me.

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Baptized by my grandpa on Easter Sunday, and in this picture, with two young and amazing parents.

My baptized and given name
On this day a few decades ago, I was baptized on Easter Sunday and officially marked and claimed as a Child of God. I was sealed with the cross of Christ forever. I was named Timothy when I was born, and a couple months later, I was baptized as Timothy.

I was named after the companion, disciple, assistant, and perhaps correspondent to the Apostle Paul. I also like the supposed meaning for the name of Timothy, which is “honoring God.”

I wanted to be different
This name also matters to me because growing up, there were a number of Tim’s in my classes. Most of them were my friends.

The show “Home Improvement,” with Tim Allen playing “Tim the Tool Man Taylor,” was on TV every week when I was in elementary school, and the idea of being called “Tim,” like the sometimes odd and goofball “Tim the Tool Man,” was not quite what I wanted to be known for. And, to be perfectly honest, if you remember Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, you might also remember “Tiny Tim.” Being that I was always one of the shortest kids in my class, I didn’t want to be known as “Tiny Tim.” I wanted to be different.

I wanted to be different, so I did the best I could to claim that, by going by Timothy.

The realities of other names
It really wasn’t until the fourth grade when this effort of mine was challenged, and one of my favorite teachers started always calling me “Tim.” Perhaps I was just too quiet to fight it publicly or correct it? But my silent form of protest was to always write my name on my homework as “Timothy,” and to always sign my name as “Timothy.”

People near and far have called me one thing or another, too many names to willingly list. When called these different names I may or may not verbally respond, but when asked about my name preference, I always say my name is Timothy (but I am used to being called other things).

There may be other titles I am called, such as “friend,” “deacon,” “Child of God,” “brother,” “son,” “husband,” etc., and these are all well and good. But when you get past the title, my name will always be Timothy.

Names and identities matter
So why am I writing about this today on my baptismal birthday? I am not writing to make anyone feel bad who has called me something else. I get it, I have called plenty of people names they probably don’t want to be called too.

I am writing about this today because I believe names and identities matter. Timothy was the name I was given, and frankly, I am pretty fond of it. And it is for this reason, that I try whenever possible to ask someone what they prefer to be called. I have been on the other side, and have been called all sorts of odd names- some logical and some not.

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What is your name? And why does it matter to you?

If you have ever wondered, that’s what’s in a name for me.

What’s in your name that matters to you? Why is it important to you? How is it part of your identity and story?

Image Credit: Hello My Name is

Reflect, think, pray, and be

On this week that we move from the shouts and songs of Hosannas, to an Upper Room and a garden, to a sham of a trial and shouts of “Crucify Him,” to the cross, the tomb, and then another garden around the tomb… Allison and I took a little time yesterday afternoon to revisit a beautiful place that is special to us.

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The Holy Family (in the glass) above the crucifix and altar.

With my mother-in-law in town, we wanted to take her to see one of the more beautiful sights we know of in the Cornhusker State. (Plus, we wanted to take her along to help Allison finally replace the same rain jacket she has had since I think middle school.) So, we took some time yesterday afternoon to visit the Holy Family Shrine near Gretna, Nebraska.

This shrine, a beautiful place for reflection, prayer, and worship, is designed with panoramic views of the valley between Omaha and Lincoln. It has trails to walk, but for me, the central part is the way the water flows.

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Where the flow of water begins

The waters of the rain are caught and start the flow of the baptismal water, by flowing through an adjoining building, and then through an outdoor garden, and then through the floor of the sanctuary itself to a larger pool under and in front of the altar area. To hear the running water, makes you remember your baptism. To hear the flowing water, reminds you of the peace that is possible through God’s presence.

It was in this space a year ago, that Allison and I took a few hours to do some serious reflection, conversation, and soul searching. As we imagined and prayed, as we wondered and shared where we were at, it was here ultimately, where Allison said, “Timothy, you are being called here.”

The Holy Spirit was present that day, just as the Holy Spirit is every day. But it was good to be there in that space. A space, where the garden outside helps you wonder about the Garden of Gethsemane.

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Admiring the beauty of the garden, and wondering about the Garden of Gethsemane.

We were there last year the week following Easter, and on that afternoon the sun shined, it rained, it hailed, sort of snowed, and then a rainbow appeared all in the matter of three hours. So, it was good to be back there yesterday, on the Tuesday of Holy Week to remember, to listen, and to be, on a majestic sunny and blue sky late afternoon.

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Admiring the way the water flows

It was good to invite Allison’s mom into this sacred space and let her see and feel for just a moment, where Allison and I were last year thanks to our friend and colleague Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, who knew just where to take us to give us space to reflect, think, pray, and be.

There are spaces that have this effect and impact everywhere. Growing up it was often in the woods or around the creek in my backyard, or other times at the piano, or at my home church with views of the bay and the Olympic Mountains. I am sure I will have many more such spaces. But for now, this is one special place in our hearts.

As the sun shined yesterday, as we remembered last year, we also had the chance to remember why we are here and to also remember the affirmation and commitment to our callings and vows which we remembered a few weeks ago at a Chrism Mass led by Bishop Brian Maas and Pastor Juliet in Omaha.

water
Take some time to listen to the flow of the water, and to wonder about what God might be up to.

As we journey through this week to the upper room and the garden; from the garden to the cross; as we move from the cross to the tomb; and then to the vigil and sunrise and the discovery of the tomb door’s opening, let us take the time to reflect, think, pray, and be.

This is the holiest of weeks. I hope and pray that you can give yourself the space to be fully present for the whole journey of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil or Easter Sunrise, and the festival and celebration of the resurrection with Easter.

I also hope that you have a space to go and remember why you are doing what you are doing, and to be able to take a moment to be still, and know that God is God, and God is with you.

Can you Believe what you just Saw?

On Sunday March 26, 2017, I had the privilege of being invited to preach and lead worship at Salem Lutheran Church in Superior, Nebraska. This congregation is part of the Heartland Shared Ministries, and in the afternoon I led a stewardship seminar for the combined partner congregations and the surrounding cluster. It was a joy to be with the congregation, and I look forward to their continued exploration about what it means to be a “shared” ministry.

The following is the manuscript I mainly preached from. It is based on the revised common lectionary readings appointed for the fourth Sunday in Lent, and is primarily based on John 9:1-41, and Psalm 23

Grace, peace, and blessings from our God who opens eyes, hearts, and minds to see, to know, and to love, Amen.

20170326_090220It is a great joy to be with you today. Thank you to Pastor Kathryn for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers that together with you, are the Nebraska Synod. I also bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Megan Morrow, and the entire synod staff.  I am excited to be with you for worship today and the workshop this afternoon. I am also excited to share some thoughts about our shared ministry together in the church, some ideas about stewardship, and to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to.

Can You Believe What You Just Saw?
In terms of wondering… have you ever had one of those days where you couldn’t possibly believe what you were experiencing? Or what you were seeing?

I suspect that is what was happening with the people in today’s gospel story. In today’s story, a man who was born blind, through following Jesus’ instructions, is given sight. The people in the community can hardly believe it. Those who see it and try to make sense of it, are mad. How could this be possible? What’s going on here? “Clearly this is wrong,” the Pharisees or those in authority think, because it is not how things are supposed to go.

But as the blind man, who Jesus extends the call to be a disciple and follower of the way to, responds about Jesus and his acts on his (and perhaps our behalf), “I do not know whether he (Jesus) is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”[1]

The man who is given literal sight in this story, provides “an opportunity for God to act,” or for God to do what God does.[2] The gospel of John is filled with “I am” statements, describing who exactly this God in Christ is. Today we again hear Jesus proclaim, “I am.” “I am the light of the world.”[3] And as soon as he proclaims this, Jesus spits and makes mud. Seems kind of opposite of what we might first envision the light of the world looking like. But then we remember who this God of ours is. Someone who has come near, become one of us, has lived, died, and was resurrected for us, so that we might have life.

Still, I have to ask again, have you ever had one of those days where you couldn’t possibly believe what you were experiencing? Or what you were seeing?

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Look who I found? My boss, Bishop Brian Maas’ picture and story, on the shelves at Salem Lutheran in Superior.

About a year ago, I had such a couple of days. No one literally gained sight, but my heart and mind were definitely moved in ways I might not have been ready for or had expected.

My wife Allison and I are natives of the Pacific Northwest, and after getting married about seven years ago we moved to Minnesota for seminary and work. After about five years, Allison was sent out on the last part of her preparation for ordination, internship. We thought, hey this is awesome, we’re going back home to the Northwest. Just about 7 months later after moving back across country from Minnesota to Washington state, my wife Allison and I flew out to Nebraska for a quick trip. You see, it was about at this time where after receiving an email from a person I had never heard of, inviting me to have a conversation with a bishop I had never met, I heard about what God is up to here in Nebraska.

I heard an invitation to follow a calling to come and see, and to share about this synod- a synod full of generosity, love, and partnership for the sake of the world; one you’re each a part of here in Superior with the Heartland Shared Ministries and your mission share contributions which make the work of training and raising up new leaders and pastor, of supporting transforming and renewing ministries, and the many serving arm organizations that we are all partners with possible. There’s much more to this story, and I’ll pick it up in a bit.

Abundant Life through God in Christ
Today’s gospel story is part of a longer section which goes through all of John chapter 9, and much of chapter 10.[4] The man who gains his sight through Christ’s action, becomes one of the sheep Jesus describes in the following chapter who knows the shepherd’s voice and is one of the many of God’s children whom Christ has come so that, “we might have eternal life, and have it abundantly.”[5] [6]

Abundance, that’s a stewardship thing. But what might it mean?

The man today is made new through God’s action, much like we are made new through the water and the word in baptism. God shows up and acts, time and time again, for us. We don’t deserve this action, and cannot earn it, but God shows up because God cares, loves, and promises to be with us.

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One of the ways this congregation responds to the good news, is by contributing to their local food pantry.

The question then is, how do we live into this reality? How do we respond to this calling? How do we live joyfully because of all that God has done and continues to do for us?

God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants us to live fully and abundantly, which starts with recognizing we have a God who loves us, is with us, and wants to be with us. These are gifts- gifts of life, gifts of faith, and gifts of purpose.

Stewardship as Faith, Hope, and Grace in Action
Stewardship then is how we live in light of these promises, gifts, good news, and saving acts for us. This living is an active thing. Which is why stewardship is something broad, on-going, and part of our very identity as Children of God, and each of our relationships with our neighbors, loved ones, strangers, and even God’s own self. Stewardship, put another way, is faith, hope, and grace in action.

Jesus today was entrusted with the ability to give sight to a blind man. Jesus didn’t hoard that opportunity, rather, Jesus used it, even on a Sabbath day, so that God’s work could be done through him. Faith, hope, and grace, in action.

That was Jesus’ work in this story, and even though we might not be able to give literal sight to a blind person every day, we are entrusted with passions, stories, resources, money, talents, ideas, questions, vocations, and relationships through which God works through us to build up God’s kingdom. Through us, all that we have and all that we are, that which God has entrusted to our care to manage or steward, God does God’s work.

When you think about it that way, it’s awe-inspiring and perhaps overwhelming. How we live our lives through our vocations, choices of things we do and don’t do, show how we have been impacted by all that God has done for us. If we are so caught up in joy for these gifts of God that we cannot earn, but are perfectly free gifts, it stands to reason, that we’ll be so moved that we will not be able to hoard these gifts and keep them to ourselves, but want to share them extravagantly and radically like God.

Jesus, the Light of the World
At the same time, we recognize that life is not always easy. God wants to be with us, in the good, the bad, and the ugly of life. God wants to have the deepest of relationships, and we remember that with the psalmist today. “The Lord is my shepherd.”[7] Amen. But what impact does that have on us? “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” “I” or “we,” “shall not want.” Our needs are met in God- a God who restores, who leads us, who is with us, comforting and anointing, and we shall dwell with this God. A God, who also showed up to give sight to a blind man, proclaiming, “I am the light of the world.”

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The beautiful stained glass cross at Salem Lutheran in Superior, makes me think about Jesus, the “Light of the World.”

This isn’t a light of the world that our worldly ways might anticipate. This isn’t some grandiose politician riding in on a chariot or a Boeing 747, this is a light of the world that spits and creates mud with God’s own hands. This is a light of the world who gets on his knees and washes other’s feet. This light of the world is a light that we all remember in baptism. As “Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.”[8] Or, the command to live a life of faith, hope, and grace in action, to “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”[9]

In today’s story, God bestows “grace upon grace.”[10] God doesn’t act as we might expect. God doesn’t prioritize who God will use or call as we might assign tasks to the smartest, strongest, or loudest. No, God’s grace is not something that can be counted and assessed. God’s “grace upon grace,” is how God’s economy works, an economy and stewardship that is different than our human created ones. [11]

The man today who is given sight, listened to God and did as God called. The man confessed belief, and worshiped. The man did, what I hope we all do, he worshiped and gave thanks because God had shown up. God has again given life, life for us, a life so extravagant and abundant we could not even imagine.

This life is made possible of course through God’s saving acts of the cross, we remember on our Lenten journey.

Now What? The Rest of the Story
But this life is not always an easy one. I promised you more of my story, so here you go.

When my wife and I came to Nebraska for that couple of days last year, from the Pacific Northwest, we sensed, we saw, and we were amazed. We sensed God at work. But we knew that also meant change. We cried some, knowing we would be moving once again from our extended families and loved ones in the Northwest. But, as we saw, heard and experienced with our own eyes, hearts, and minds in Nebraska, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. We were being called here. And so, here we are. I as a deacon, serving as Director for Stewardship for the Nebraska Synod, sharing all about stories of ministry in action from across this wonderful state; and Allison as a first call pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. To be a part of the ministry of 245 congregations, 13 serving arms, and telling the story of God at work is a life of pure joy for me.

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A fitting reminder on the walls at Salem in Superior.

This life that we all lead as disciples, stewards of God’s love and mysteries, and followers of Christ, is a life of calling, purpose, and vocation. When we are found, like the man in today’s story, we would also then be wise to expect to be sent out. The disciples were all sent out, and so are we, each week at the end of worship to our various daily lives, to live out the Good News and share that through God, “all have life and all have it abundantly.”[12] We do this through our words and actions. We do this by extending God’s invitation to all, to invite the world to come and see what God has done and God continues to do. [13]

All of this is a gift. It’s good news. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way, to allow God to work through us, to use us, and for us to go about the work of living lives of faith, and stewarding all that God has given and continues to give. I wonder if that’s really what the problem was for the Pharisees? Jesus broke the rules of their expectations, so that couldn’t possibly be okay. It’s a good reminder, that God isn’t beholden to our human understanding, and self-created rules for good order. When we are, stubborn and hold to an “our way or the highway” mentality, perhaps we refuse to believe, and by doing so, we’re blind to our own sin?[14]

Even so, God still shows up to do the work to open our eyes, hearts, and minds. God calls us to see all that God has done, to feel and share the Light of the World with our sisters and brothers, and to know so deeply that God loves us, is with us, and is for us. Amen.

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Notes, References, and Citations:

[1] John 9:25, NRSV.

[2] Obrey M. Hendricks, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Michael D. Coogan, ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 164 New Testament.

[3] John 9:5, NRSV.

[4] Karoline M. Lewis, Lutheran Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), page 1770.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John 10:10, NRSV.

[7] Psalm 23:1, NRSV.

[8] “Holy Baptism,” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 231.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found,” 19 March 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4843.

[11] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found,” 19 March 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4843.

[12] John 10:10, NRSV.

[13] Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found.”

[14] Inspired by Obrey Hendricks, 165 New Testament.

Let’s be a John 3:17 People! – A stewardship sermon

This weekend (March 11th & 12th), I had the joy of visiting First Lutheran Church in Kearney, Nebraska. Pastor Sylvia Karlsson invited me to come, preach, and visit, as part of the congregation’s stewardship season of focus during Lent. Over the course of the weekend, I preached the following sermon, visited with many different people, and also had a fun evening of a barbecue stewardship dinner filled with conversation and questions and answers with me. What follows is the manuscript that I mainly preached from. The sermon was based on the congregation’s stewardship focus from Ephesians 4:1-16, and the appointed gospel passage from the revised common lectionary for the second weekend of Lent, John 3:1-17. If you would like to listen or watch this sermon, the 11:00am service was recorded and can be viewed including the sermon here

Grace and peace from our God who created you, calls you, claims you, loves you, and is with you. Amen.

It is a great joy to be with you today here in Kearney. Thank you Pastor Sylvia for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings on behalf of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ from across the Nebraska Synod, from Bishop Maas, and the whole synod staff, and even from my friend and colleague Deacon Connie Stover, a member of this great community here. I am excited to be with you and to help think about what God might be up to here, and how we’re stewards of all that God entrusts to us- all that we have and all that we are.[1]

Stewardship Theme: Ephesians 4:4-6
The stewardship theme that you have chosen from Ephesians 4 is one that is all about unity. We each have unique gifts, passions, ideas, identities, stories, and vocations. But we are brought together in the one Body. Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”[2]

kids bells
The Youth Handbell Choir sharing their gifts of music as part of the prelude.

The word “all” shows up four times, just in this verse alone. This is something that the apostle Paul is trying to get through to the people of Ephesus. The church, the Body of Christ, is dependent upon all- all of us, all our neighbors, everyone. We all have a role to play. We all have purpose, and we all matter. Looking around the world, that’s a message and story that needs to be told today, perhaps more than ever.

So, what are we to do about this? How can we tell this story, one that Jesus starts to paint a picture of, for Nicodemus today? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. Indeed, God, did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[3]

This is a pure gift! The question then is, what is our joyful response to this gift of life? How do we live? The answer has everything to do with stewardship.

What It Means to be a Steward
Stewardship is not just about money, though that’s certainly a part of it. It’s about asking for people to give, and to contribute out of response to the good news and promises of all that God has done for you and continues to do.

40 days
One of the ways that First Lutheran is practicing stewardship during Lent is by engaging with curriculum developed by ELCA World Hunger, and supporting this ministry through weekly noisy offerings among other ways.

Stewardship is about thanking God and thanking people, living a life of gratitude and joy. On that note, thank you for the invitation, and for all the many ways you each serve in your vocations, daily lives, and as partners in ministry in this place, in this community of Kearney, as part of the Nebraska Synod, the ELCA and the larger church. Your partnership in this, as part of the synod, and through your mission share contributions makes the work of the church possible: through sharing resources to prepare and raise up new leaders; through helping those in need by responding to disasters and world hunger, and supporting the work of the many serving arms of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, and Lutheran World Relief to name a few; and in spreading the good news of a God who has come near, through supporting new and transforming ministries.

Stewardship is also about telling the stories of how God is at work, and how, whether we recognize it or not, we are part of that work, and it’s beautiful and important work, that I have the joy in my role as Director for Stewardship of getting to remind you all about.

God uses us- all that we have and all that we are, to bring about God’s kingdom and do God’s work in the world. How we respond to the good news- by the way we live our lives joyfully, abundantly or in scarcity, help shows how we have been impacted by the good news. The choices we make, the things we do or don’t do, they are all reflections of how we steward ourselves- all of what makes each of us who we are- our time, our bodies, our health, our dreams, our questions, our ideas, our vocations, our hopes, our stories, our relationships. That’s what stewardship is about.

It’s a deep thing. It’s a big part of our identity as Children of God, and as some have said, it might well include everything we do after hearing the Good News of God, good news we heard again today, and good news and reminders of God’s promises we will celebrate again through a simple meal in a few moments.

stewardship dinner
Some of the many wonderful people who came and enjoyed the stewardship dinner at First Lutheran, served and sponsored by the congregation’s stewardship team.

In this time of change, worry, and fear for many, we must be stewards of God’s love to all of God’s people. We must be a John 3:17 people. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[4]

This is the gospel to the core- the gift of God for all the children and people of God, all of whom God has created, all of whom God calls, claims, and loves. God wants to be in relationship with God’s people. And God in Christ comes as one of us, to be with us, and through Him, to save us so that we may all live, and live life abundantly.

That’s what we remember during this season of Lent in our journey to and through the cross. That’s also the good news my friends. But it’s news we need to be sharing and we are called to share. But how?

Vocations & Our Response
What we do matters. What we do isn’t about saving ourselves or anyone, that’s God’s good gift and promise. But what we do matters in the sense that it is our joyful response to the good news, gifts, and promises of God. How do we live our lives? How do we love those around us, living out our unique and diverse callings?

Let me put this another way.

The Blowing Winds of Nebraska & the Movement of the Spirit
In talking to Nicodemus, Jesus paints a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit. It’s one that takes on extra meaning here in Nebraska when we think of the way the wind blows. I mean just this last week, living in the parsonage in rural Fontanelle northeast of Fremont where my wife serves as pastor at Salem Lutheran there, our house lost power a couple times because of the wind whipping out of the south and then the west and north.

Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[5]

We believe in a God who is on the loose, present everywhere, and up to something. What God is up to, can sometimes be a great mystery to us. It usually involves lifting people up, spreading love, purpose, hope, joy, and sharing the good news of God’s promises through love and action. God the Holy Spirit moves like the wind, in ways that are uncontrollable. We can’t make God do what we want. We can’t put God in a box, or treat our prayers like that of someone with wishes for a Genie in a bottle. That’s not a real relationship. God wants to be with us, in the good, bad, and ugly of life. And when we are open to it, just as the Holy Spirit moves and blows like the wind, we too can be moved in ways we might never expect and to lands we might never have imagined. I think all of our stories might be good examples of this.

A Bit of My Story of the Spirit’s Movement
For example, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I met my wife in college, and we fell in love. After I did a master’s program in California, we got married and a week later moved to seminary in Minnesota. No rational person goes about life like this. I mean, I had had planned my whole life ahead, I would keep going to school, get a PhD and then maybe after that start dating at that point. God had other ideas, much better than my own, I might add. After five years in Minnesota, we went back to Washington for Allison to do her internship, the last part of her preparation before ordination. We figured, hey, we’re going home to the northwest…

Then a funny thing happened. God nudged me in the form of an email from a person I had never heard of to have a phone conversation with a bishop I had never met. A month later I was on a quick trip to Nebraska to see this state I didn’t know much about in person with my own eyes. Tears were shed on that trip, tears of knowing that we would be leaving our extended families again, but we also knew, through our hearts, minds, and souls, that God was up to something and we were being led here to this beautiful and wonderful state and this awesome synod which we are all a part of in this church.

God in the Holy Spirit moves in ways which we often can’t explain, and in ways that defy our human logic or best planning. But that’s a part of what it means to be a Follower of Christ, and honestly, to be a steward.

Called Together for the Sake of Our Neighbor
God calls us together. God gifts us with purpose, and entrusts us with unique callings and responsibilities. But each of these, is not just for ourselves, or for God alone. They are for each other, for our neighbors both locally and far away. We have a God who calls us into relationships. That means at times we will disagree, perhaps fight or mess-up, because we’re in community and relationships. We’re human after all. But through God, there is hope of reconciliation through God’s love, and the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[6]

heavenlytreblemakers
Best choir name ever, “Heavenly Treble Makers.” Beautiful singers. Thank you for all sharing and stewarding your musical gifts.

In times like this, we are called more than ever to truly be this one body for the sake of the world- to share, to love, to do, to tell, and to serve. God’s done the hard work already of overcoming death through Christ. Now it’s our turn to go about the work of being a steward of God’s love, responding to the good news, promises, and gifts of God’s saving acts for us. It’s our turn, our calling, our duty, and our joy to be a part of the beautiful, unique, and diverse Body of Christ, which together can provide community, hope, healing, and reconciliation to a hurting and broken, yet very beautiful and wonderfully made world.

This is not easy work. But it’s the most important work. And together, we go about it, each serving in our various ways, called to it by our God who loves us, is with us, and is for us. Amen.

____________________________________

Notes, Resources, and References

[1] I’m especially excited to be here because Pr. Sylvia was one of the first people I met last year shortly after accepting this call to serve in Nebraska. In addition to serving as your transition pastor, Pr. Sylvia is the chair for the Nebraska Synod Stewardship Table. I met that group virtually for the first time through the wonders of the internet last April, even before I began working for the synod, and I knew then and there what a great team I was going to be a part of. I am grateful for their leadership, especially as they have welcomed me to this exciting role as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship.

[2] Ephesians 4:4-6, NRSV.

[3] John 3:16-17, NRSV.

[4] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, “John 3:16,” “Dear Working Preacher,” 5 March 2017. Within this, Karoline writes, “the sweeping claim of John 3:16 without 3:17 has in our general parlance become that which justifies damnation for unbelievers, perpetuates our myopic musings about God, and validates our hubris. Rather than signal God’s desire to be in relationship with all people, this verse has become a weapon…”

[5] John 3:8, NRSV.

[6] Ephesians 4:3, NRSV.

International Women’s Day #Instruct

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 8th, is “Instruct.”

I am doing something different today. Instead of a theological or biblical devotion, I am simply going to stand in solidarity with all of the women in my life, and remind or instruct myself about all of these important women.

On this International Women’s Day, or Day Without Women, I am wearing red. I am also going to use the following post to share just a sampling of a list of some of the women who have had and/or continue to have an impact on me by their leadership, friendship, mentorship, collegiality, and willingness to listen and be in conversation with me and others. It is long past due that all women receive full equal rights, equal pay, equal respect, and equal authority.

If the world did not have the following women, I would not be who I am today, and for all of you, and the many more not listed here, thank you, and know that I am with you as an ally, friend, and colleague.

women 1
Some of the strong women in my family.

Rev. Allison Siburg
Tricia Siburg
Tamara Siburg
Jakki Parks
Maria Harwell
Melba Tengesdal
Joan Siburg
Dr. Margo Holm
Dr. Lynn Chandler
Dr. Joan Rogers
Natalie Holm
Joanne Parks
Dr. Barb Tengesdal
Britta Tengesdal
Lisa Tengesdal
Pat Jackson
Kristin Jackson
Suzy Siburg
Holly Jenkins
Amanda Siburg

women 2
More of the amazing women in my family

Elizabeth Bateman
Kristin Bateman
Kath Bateman
Erin Parks
Carla Parks
Becca Padrick
Anna Padrick
Tracy Padrick
Dorothea Tenney
Elaine Vangerud
Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud
Mary Vangerud
Heather Vangerud
Sharon Tenney
Diane Schori
Karla Tengesdal
Sophie Ommedahl
Myra Johnson
Myrna Stanton
Nancy Land
Rev. Alison Shane
Dr. Terri Elton
Rev. Dr. Mary Sue Dreier
Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis

dr. marit
Allison and I with Dr. Marit Trelstad, one of our favorite professors from PLU, whom taught one of the more influential classes for me, “Feminist, Womanist, & Mujerista Theology”

Dr. Marit Trelstad
Dr. Lynn Hunnicutt
Dr. Karen Travis
Dr. Brenda Ihssen
Dr. Priscilla St. Clair
Dr. Patricia O’Connell Killen
Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen
Dr. Amy Marga
Dr. Lois Malcolm
Dr. Deanna Thompson
Rev. Karen Stevenson
Rev. Juliet Hampton
Rev. Megan Morrow
Stephanie Lusienski
Diane Harpster
Lisa Kramme
Michele Herrick
Sandy Terry
Rev. Rebecca Sheridan
Rev. Rebecca Sullivan
Rev. Amanda Ullrich
Rev. Kaitlyn Forster
Carrie Gubsch
Andi Mandrick
Rev. Emmy Kegler
Rev. Jill Rode
Deacon Connie Stover
Deacon Peggy Hahn
Deacon Beth Hartfiel
Chris Hicks
Vonda Drees
Lynn Willis
Joanne Erickson
Elise Erickson
Svea Erickson
Sylvia Cauter
Emily Cauter
Susie Soine
Karen Byrd
Kerrie Byrd
Carol Zach
Carol Peterson
Ursula Alexander
Carin Nelson
Lynn Rupp
Debbie Collier
Christie Lofall
Mrs. Tobin
Mrs. Bryant
Mrs. Hamlin
Mrs. McLaughlin
Mrs. Harmon
Mrs. Smith
Mrs. Youngquist
Sharon Ferguson
Mrs. Davies
Mrs. Webster
Mrs. Piper
Mrs. Olson
Mrs. Bale
Mrs. Overby

plu
Some of our many friends who gathered with us on our wedding day from PLU. Look at all of those great leaders, people, and especially the sheer number of amazing women.

MaryAnn Anderson
Kristen Lee
Rachel Danforth
Jamie Lindberg
Louise Rose
Andrea Goddard
Kim Skelly
Katie Oost
Mallory Ferland
Kristen Sprague
Ella Sanman
Kellie Kuntz
Ariana Stinson
Nicole Perigard
Stacy Davis
Allison Ryan
Dr. Jenny Darroch
Dr. Sarah Smith-Orr
Dr. Katharina Pick
Dr. Lois Farag
Dr. Susan Heinrich
Dr. Mary Hess
Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda
Marcia Shetler
Senator Patty Murray
Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn
Dr. Elizabeth Goldsmith
Kim Parker
Hannah Heinzekehr
Deacon Julia Nelson
Margaret Ellsworth
Cori Jo Duncan
Holly Wright
Jacklyn Henly
Kristin Tranby
Jody Thone
Kim Pleticha
Rev. Siri Erickson
Mary Struwve
Nancy Giddings
Deb Meyer
LuAnn Olson
Kelly Simon
Jessica Potts
Joy Studer
Connie Howard
Deacon Julie Bracken
Janet Borst
Rev. Kathy Braafladt
Rev. Melanie Wallschlaeger
Allison Ramsey
Karen Pickering
Presiding Bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton

sem
Some of my closest friends from seminary- confidants, co-conspirators, cheerleaders, dreamers, and doers.

Rev. Emily Wiles
Rev. Katie Emery
Rev. Beth Wartick
Grace Duddy Pomroy
Jody Meyer
Angie Moeller
Heather Ruwe
Shirley Kocher
Katherine Ostlie
Jennifer Olson-Kringle
Sara Garbers
Rev. Michelle DeBeauchamp Olafsen
Alice Olson
Annie Romstad
Judy Hedman
Myrlette Giddings
Sheryl Jacobsen
Tisa Zachau
Kari Osmek
Kris Bjorke
Rev. Diane Roth
Rev. Sarah Cordray
Rev. Sarah Ruch
Rev. Sheryl Kester-Beyer
Rev. Sylvia Karlsson
Heather Hanson
Mary Ann Peterson
Joanne Hinckle

Obviously, I could keep going, and this is only a few people, but it’s a sampling of some of the countless women who have had and/or continue to have an impact on me. If it weren’t for these people, and many others not named here, I would not be who I am.

Who would you be without the women in your life? 

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels.