This 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
This past weekend I had the privilege to preach at Edensburg Lutheran Church in Malmo and Alma Lutheran Church in Mead, Nebraska. Thank you to Pastor Andrew Dietzel for the invitation, and to both congregations for the warm welcome. I was invited to preach on the appointed gospel passage according to the revised common lectionary for the Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35, or the story about the “Road to Emmaus.” What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from.
Grace and peace from our God who opens eyes, hearts, minds, and tombs, Amen.
It is a great joy to be with you all today. Thank you so much Pastor Andrew for the invitation, and to all of you here for the warm welcome. On behalf of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ that are the Nebraska Synod, I bring greetings. Today especially I bring Easter greetings from Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and the whole Nebraska Synod staff. Thank you again for the invitation, and for the opportunity to preach so close to home for me. Lately when I have been out preaching and meeting with congregations I have been on the road well before 6am to get to places like Superior or Filley, or spending the whole weekend out in Scottsbluff, Holdrege, or Kearney. Today, I didn’t have to leave from home in Fontanelle until 7:15am. What a gift, so thank you!
I am excited to be with you and to share in the joy of the resurrection, as well as to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to, and of course to share some stewardship thoughts. I think this story today of the Road to Emmaus is a beautiful passage, which is actually a great story of how faith works, of how conversations and relationships happen and form, and how together, we can wonder what God might be up to, and then have the courage and trust to follow and see where God might be leading, and how we are called to be a part of it.
On the Road to Emmaus So, on that note, in today’s story, here we are, only hours removed from the stone being rolled away and the tomb being opened. And two disciples here are on a walk. The walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, is about seven miles. It would be like walking from here to Wahoo, give or take a mile.
On this walk, these two men were unknowingly joined by Jesus, because, you know, what would God do after beating death at its own game? God would find two people trying to make sense of the world, fighting off their despair, and disillusionment, and come alongside them. That’s just what God does– because God is present with us, and for us.
When God in Christ finds these two people, you could imagine Jesus played dumb, when he asked, “what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” But I think what Jesus is really doing here, is inviting a deeper conversation. He is slowly opening these two people up and bringing to the surface the things that the two are wrestling with. By this I mean- Jesus is opening them up by having them share their angst, worries, disappointments, inability to believe the women’s story of their encounter earlier that day at the tomb, and more. They are trying to make sense of this changed world, but they can’t quite get past the despair, and wonderings of “what if” and “what now?”
I love that Jesus responds to Cleopas’ annoyed and astonished question, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” with another question, “what things?” Ah, what things indeed. This is one of the first invitations to share the story of the gospel, only hours after the Easter climax. Jesus himself is inviting these two to share their story, God’s story, as well as the emotional and life stuff all tied up in it.
I imagine that it is out of love, and perhaps a bit of exasperation at this point that Jesus ultimately begins to reveal himself to these two by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Or, perhaps more accurately as another commentator translated this expression, “You sweet dummies!How could you miss this?”
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging, and through teaching, conversation, and the breaking of bread, he opens their eyes.
Then Their Eyes Were Opened- How about our eyes? “Then their eyes were opened.” This is probably my favorite verse in this whole story. “Then their eyes were opened…”
The two disciples are opened up, beyond themselves. They recognize the impact the whole conversation has had internally, but now are aware of it externally. They have connected their hearts, minds, souls, and eyes, and all that they are, have been opened up.
I wonder… When have your eyes been opened? When have your eyes been opened to God working in your midst? When have you been opened up to sense that God is truly present with you? When have your eyes been opened to new ideas, possibilities, and ways of thinking?
Perhaps a story will help? I am not a native of Nebraska. My wife and I are originally from the Seattle area, and since we have been married we lived in Minnesota and went to seminary there, and then returned back to the Northwest for her internship a year and a half ago. So, you might be wondering how on earth am I here now with you? Well, long story short, I was invited to come and see, and did just that the week after Easter Sunday last year.
When I came to visit Nebraska for the first time, when my wife and I visited to discern whether to accept the Holy Spirit’s leading here, all we really knew was, Nebraska is “Big Red Country,” Omaha is supposed to have good steaks and is home to the College World Series, and there’s obviously a lot of Lutherans here. We came to learn and see, and boy did we. Our eyes that had been closed to the wonder of this state were opened. Sure, there may not be Mount Rainier here, and certainly there’s no Pacific Ocean, Mariners baseball or Seahawks football, but I know your devotion to the Huskers. And don’t tell my family and friends this, but I think yours is probably deeper (and perhaps crazier) than any passion for a northwest sports team.
The eye opening has only continued since moving here last fall. In my travels across the state since being called here to this synod with all of you, my eyes have been opened to all of the stories of generosity, of congregations doing amazing things as part of God’s work in the world. I have heard stories of faithful stewards responding to God’s promises and gifts in awe inspiring ways. I have seen congregations open their doors to communities and people in need.
Taking a step back, to have ones’ eyes opened, also means to be changed. The two people in today’s story have been changed. From despair, they have been moved to hope. From disillusionment, they have been moved to clear purpose. From mourning to joy and perhaps even dancing. And that’s exactly what God does through Easter. God changes everything, and that’s what God does for each of us in baptism, and in different ways each and every day.
Where stewardship fits in… This is all God’s work, and thanks be to God for that. But what do we because of this? What did the disciples do who were changed that day on the walk to Emmaus with Jesus? The answers are all about stewardship.
This story, and the stories I have heard of ministry in action across Nebraska as my eyes have been continued to be opened are all a part of stewardship. Stewardship has everything to do with responding to the question of, what will you do because of all that God has done, will do, and continues to do for you? Or, as the Psalmist asks today, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”
The two in today’s story are moved to a joyful response. They don’t stay in the village that they were heading to. No, the same hour as they discover and are changed forever, they get up and return to Jerusalem where they found the eleven and companions huddling. They tell their story that, “The Lord has risen indeed!” Then they share about how Jesus joined them, opened them up and was made known through their conversations, breaking of bread, food, and fellowship. By going back, they don’t run away, or keep this good news to themselves. No, they go back to the city which they left in despair and fear, to share a word of peace, hope, and joy. Because God has done what God had promised to do.
How do you live your life because of all that God has done and continues to do? How do you steward all that you have and all that you are? The decisions each of us make is our joyful response (or not) to all that God has done. God’s action are pure gifts, gifts for us. Gifts we cannot earn. But we can’t help but be so filled with joy, that we are changed because of them. And though as Lutherans we might like to sit in the back pew, we can’t help but be so filled with joy that we will share of God’s love and promises through the ways we live, the stories we tell, and all that we do.
This is stewardship. All that we have and all that we are, have been entrusted to us by God to use, manage, or steward. That includes our money, our time, our talents, but it also means our questions, dreams, hopes, ideas, wonders, passions, vocations, stories, relationships, and creation.
All that we do is a response to God’s gift, and that’s why telling the story of all that God has done and continues to do is stewardship, just as thanking people for being part of it is stewardship, too. So, thank you all again for the invitation and, whether you know it or not, thank you for your continued participation in giving to mission share and mission support.
Your contributions as a congregation make possible the education and development of new pastors and leaders of the church through this synod and the larger ELCA. They help support new, renewing, and transforming congregations and ministries. They also help support the many serving arms of the church including Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, and Lutheran World Relief. Thank you for being a part of this work, and responding to God’s gifts in this way. I have the best job in the ELCA I believe because I get to hear and see your stories of generosity, but then I also have the joy of getting to thank you for them, and to share your stories with all those I meet.
Putting it all Together The two people on the road in today’s story are so moved and changed when their eyes are opened that they’re able to proclaim as we do throughout this Easter season, “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!” They can’t keep this news to themselves quietly in the small village of Emmaus. Instead, they are so moved that they get back on the road they just walked seven miles on, to walk back another seven miles to Jerusalem and to share their joy and excitement.
They have been changed, and so have we. God has done what God does, and I wonder, what will we do now?
This isn’t a one time thing, this opening of eyes that happens because Jesus meets two people on the road, listens and talks with them, and then breaks some bread. This is something that happens every week around this table with a simple meal, when we hear these words “given for you,” and “shed for you.” This is something that also happens every day when we wake up with a new day, a day that the Lord has made, so “let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
God has opened the tomb. God has opened our hearts, minds, and eyes. And God will keep opening them, because that’s exactly how the Kingdom of God breaks into this hurting and broken, yet beautiful and loved world, little by little. We’re all a part of it, as God calls and creates us, because God loves us, and meets us on the road like in today’s story; in a simple meal like we’ll have together in a few moments, and each day in new and exciting ways. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The tomb has been opened. “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” has been sung. The lilies have bloomed, the Easter jokes have been told… all of this is good news. Now what?
Easter is a 50-day season of joy, but I am not talking about the liturgical “now what” question. I am wondering on a deeper level, God in Christ has done the work for us, for once and for all. But now what? How do we respond? What do we do? What are we going to do?
This has been the focus of my stewardship preaching lately throughout Lent, raising the question of response. What is our joyful response to the good news of God? What is our joyful response to the pure gifts of God, for us?
God has changed everything with Easter. But are we, ourselves changed? Are we so caught up in joy and gratitude for what God has done and continues to do, that we are changed and so moved by God, that we are unable to sit still and keep the story of God to ourselves? Are we so moved to share God’s love through words and actions- the very ways that we live our lives?
Before I get on my soap box again, here are at least three thoughts:
The ELCA has a rostered minister shortage- both pastors and deacons. This shortage is projected to continue to grow. We could let this be bad news, or we could view this joyfully as an opportunity to be more intentional about telling this story as part of our joyful response. We could use this an opportunity to do things differently, to innovate and experiment; because to do otherwise isn’t really an option anymore. We could use this an opportunity to wonder actively, what might God be up to here?
Despite what might be happening societally or politically, our call as baptized Christians remains the same. How do we affirm this, and lift up these stories of faith in action in our midst? [You will notice more of these types of stories in upcoming reports, articles, magazines, newsletters, and social media posts from me and the Nebraska Synod.]
We live in a beautiful yet broken world. We are all gifted and called with various vocations, roles, passions, stories, questions, ideas, and relationships. How can we more intentionally than ever lift up everyone’s unique stories as sacred and holy calls from God to various stations, vocations, and roles? When we can help people see that their daily lives are in fact very much where God shows up in and through them, there is a depth and intentionality that forms a deeper sense of faith, stewardship, and discipleship. I want to be a part of this work, don’t you?
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Sunday April 2, 2017, I was invited to visit, preach, and meet with the council at First Lutheran Church in Wilber, Nebraska by Pastor Travis Panning. I had a wonderful morning with the congregation. Worship included parts of Marty Haugen’s “Now the Feast and Celebration” liturgy originally dedicated for the University Congregation at my alma mater, Pacific Lutheran University, which on a slightly drizzly Sunday morning made me remember the Pacific Northwest.
What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from, based on the Narrative Lectionary’s appointed text for the day this year for the fifth Sunday of Lent, Luke 18:31-19:10.
Grace and peace from our God who sees us, opens our eyes, is with us, and is for us, Amen.
It is a great joy to be with you today. Thank you to Pastor Travis for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome here in Wilber. 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 and share some thoughts about our shared ministry together in the church, some ideas about stewardship, and to wonder with you about what God might be up to here.
Where We Are in the Narrative I have to say I am a bit jealous. It’s not every week that I am in a congregation following the narrative lectionary, but I love this year in the Narrative. The last two weeks alone you have heard two of my favorite stewardship gospel stories. Luke 15, the three lost parables, all with good points of imagination about stewardship. And then last week, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, woah, you don’t get much more direct about life, death, salvation, and the call to be a steward than that. Fun texts. Tough texts, but central ones to Luke’s understanding of who God is, and the great reversal that comes with God and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
Through these stories you have heard the past few weeks, and as we enter into today’s gospel, Jesus is inching closer and closer to Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus couldn’t be more direct about what’s going to happen. He explains it again,
“we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished… he will be handed over… mocked and insulted and spat upon…” he will be flogged, killed, “and on the third day he will rise again.”
But before Jesus can get to the gates of the city; before a donkey can be found, and the passion story commenced with shouts of Hosannas and then choruses of ‘Crucify Him,’ Jesus gets interrupted at least twice more on his way. And that’s where we find ourselves today.
Jesus and the Blind Beggar First, Jesus passes by a blind beggar. At the sound of the commotion, the man shouts twice, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This gets Jesus’ attention. Here’s a man who couldn’t see, but had faith, and provides God in Christ another opportunity to act. God has entrusted Jesus with the ability to give sight to a blind person, and Jesus does just that. Jesus sees the man, and talks with him, something that most people in that context would have not done. Much like we might avoid the person holding a cardboard sign at the street corner and drive past putting our head down or looking the other way. Jesus doesn’t do this. Jesus takes note, and Jesus acts.
Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”
In this instance, God has again shown up. Jesus sees the man, and God in Christ acts and brings new life. What’s the man’s response? He joyfully follows Jesus as a new disciple. He glorifies God, and all those who witnessed God’s action, praised God. That’s the joyful response to the Good News and Promises of God. That’s how I hope we all act when God has come near, and we celebrate and remember all that God has done and continues to do for us.
Jesus and Zacchaeus Jesus then continues on his way, ever so briefly through Jericho, and then there comes a wee little man. I can relate, I have never been that tall, and to see over a crowd, climbing a tree like we might have sung about in Sunday School doesn’t seem that farfetched. The interesting thing here is, unlike the blind beggar who calls out to Jesus for Jesus to see him, Zacchaeus climbs a tree just to see, and Jesus saw him and called him by name.
I love this story, but perhaps not quite as much as my wife does. My wife Allison, is now a first call pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. For her ordination last fall back home where we grew up in the Seattle area, Allison selected this story to have read as the gospel and the preaching text. It’s one we have likely all heard many times. It’s one I always resonated with, because unlike my boss, the bishop, I have never been a tall guy, and in those class pictures growing up from kindergarten on through high school, I was always one of the kids in the front row. But this story, gives me hope, not just because of my short stature, but, because, each time we come to this story, I think there’s more depth to be found.
Zacchaeus is a rich or well-off person, but he has the opposite response to the rich man from the story you heard last week, about the rich man and Lazarus. Maybe that’s why Zacchaeus is given a name in this story and the rich man was not? In fact, literally translated, Zacchaeus’ name means, “pure, clean, innocent.”
Without being prompted, at least according to Luke’s version of the story, Zacchaeus declares to Jesus, to God who has come near to him and into his own home, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” This is Zacchaeus’ response. He has been changed simply by the presence of God. He has been changed because God has come near, and seen him.
And for this Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Salvation has come. God has come near. And Zacchaeus knows it.
Zacchaeus, “an agent of the state, a Jew turned oppressor of his own people,” longed for something more. And God shows up. Whether or not Zacchaeus changes his profession and vocation or not after this experience, he is certainly changed forever. Even if he remains a tax collector, he will not be operating the same way he has before. This is Zacchaeus’ joyful response to the good news, promises, and presence of God.
What is Our Joyful Response? Which begs the question, what is your response? What is our response to the good news of a God who has come near for us?
In today’s story God shows up and sees- first a blind man begging on the side of the street, then a short tax collector high up in the tree just trying to get a glimpse of who this guy is, who is said to be a friend of sinners and tax collectors like himself. God comes offering salvation for these two, just as God offers salvation for each of us, and all of God’s children.
These are gifts of God for the people of God.
As the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and as a Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I have the joy of getting to share stories like this. I have been on the ground since early last fall here in Nebraska, and I have heard many stories of congregations and individuals who have responded to the good news of God in creative, faithful, and unique ways like starting care closets that have over taken entire church basements, or even turning unused space at church into a woodshop for a carpentry ministry for the local community. The responses I have seen and heard have everything to do with stewardship.
Stewardship as Joyful Response Stewardship really is the joyful response to all that God has done and continues to do. The blind man and Zacchaeus were impacted so greatly, they couldn’t help but be changed and want to share about this God with others. When God shows up in our lives, what is our response? How do we live out our lives as stewards of God’s love and mysteries?
One of the ways is through stepping up like Zacchaeus, sharing a portion of what God has financially entrusted to our care, so that God’s work can be done through us. The poor can be cared for. When congregations give mission share, for example, they help the larger church care for the poor by supporting the work of the many serving arms of the church like Mosaic and Lutheran Family Services here in Nebraska among others, but also Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service internationally.
Through offering and mission share, the church is able to prepare and raise up new leaders and pastors, as well as to support new, transforming, and renewing ministries and congregations exploring what God is up to, and being open to the calling and leading of the Holy Spirit’s presence and change.
But stewardship is more than just money. Money is a part of it. But stewardship has to do with everything that we have been entrusted with- our lives, relationships, hopes, and dreams; our ideas, our questions, our vocations; our treasure, finances and money; our passions, our talents, and time; our stories, and the beautiful creation that surrounds us which we are called and created to tend, nurture, and steward.
Our joyful response is how we live our life, impacted (or not) by all that God has done and continues to do. The way we live our life, the choices we make, the things we do or don’t do, are part of our response to God’s gift of life for each of us. They are our response to the call to come and see- that the blind man and Zacchaeus both followed.
So, again I ask, what is your joyful response? How has God shown up in your life, and what impact has that made on who you are?
God Shows Up Bringing Salvation to Us and Through us Whether we are aware of it or not, God shows up sometimes not just to us, but through us. God uses us, all that we have and all that we are, to do God’s work to build up the kingdom, to seek out the marginalized and overlooked. God uses us to bring people together, to create community, and to bring life, hope, and sometimes even salvation. God does this for us, and sometimes even through us.
The whole point of Luke’s gospel is made clear today in the last verse, a fitting verse to hear the Sunday before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Jesus proclaims,
“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
The blind man and Zacchaeus were two of them, and so are we.
God seeks us out, finds us, comes alongside, calls us, and saves us because God loves us. And this is a pure gift we can’t do anything about but be grateful for, be changed by, and be called to follow and do likewise to share the good news of God, and to steward that which God has entrusted to us to help bring abundant life, sight, food, love, peace, and mercy as our God provides for all people.
In whatever ways you have been changed, and however you respond to God’s gifts, thank you for being you- a beautiful and beloved Child of God, who God sees and knows, and who helps others know that God sees, knows, and loves them too. And thanks be to God, for our God who sees us, knows us, finds us, is with us, and loves us. Amen.
On Wednesday March 15th, I was invited to lead worship and preach at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Valley, Nebraska. For their mid-week Lenten series, they are reflecting about people of faith, and the focus for the evening was on Abraham. I was invited to preach on Hebrews 11:1, 8-22, and to share thoughts about stewardship. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from.
Grace and peace from our God, the God of Abraham, who knows you, claims you, and loves you, Amen.
It is a great privilege to be with you this evening, and I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ across the Nebraska Synod, from Bishop Maas and Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and from the whole synod staff. Thank you to Pastor Barbara for the invitation, and to all of you for your warm welcome. I am excited to be with you this evening, and to think together a little bit about having faith like Abraham, stewardship, and what God might be up to here.
Father Abraham- a man of faith “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…”
If there was ever a person of faith who rested in the hope and convictions of God’s promises without necessarily seeing them to their fulfillment, it was Abraham. Abraham, the great father of Israel, the man of faith from whom three different faiths trace their lineage, is a man of faith who sometimes doubted and sinned, just like us, but who trusted in God.
Abraham received the land as an inheritance. Abraham journeyed not knowing where he was going, but trusted that God was present and leading him. He believed that he and his future descendants, as hilarious of a thought as that was at his and Sarah’s age, were heirs of the promise. When Sarah gave birth to Isaac, much of Abraham’s doubt about who this God is was washed away. All human understanding of how things are supposed to work went out the window with that experience.
God invited Abraham to look to the stars, and pointing to the vast infinity of them said, “so shall your descendants be.” Infinite. Beautiful. Unique. Scattered. Signs of hope. The same stars that are made of star dust, the dust and ash much like we are all born of, and will return to someday as we remember on our Lenten journeys this season.
But we also know, and trust with Abraham, that God is our God. God has prepared a place for us at the heavenly banquet. And God has raised his own son from the dead, and promises us the hope of such resurrection, and abundant life.
To be honest though, I have always thought Abraham must have been a bit crazy. But since you heard about Noah last week, I imagine everybody thought Noah was crazy too for thinking it would rain and to build such an ark. But Abraham, trusted God even to the point of nearly sacrificing Isaac? I honestly don’t think I could do that. And thankfully, God did not allow that to happen, nor ever asked again for such ridiculous sacrifice except perhaps from God’s own self.
What’s this got to do with Stewardship? What I love about Abraham most though is his stewardship. Before I say more, I need to probably define stewardship. Stewardship is an idea that some people think has to do only with money, well, friends as the Director for Stewardship, I have the opportunity to set the record straight. Yes, stewardship has to do with money, but it also has to do with so much more.
If we believe as Children of God, that all that we have and all that we are, are gifts from God, then stewardship is really about how we use all that we have, and all that we are in response to God’s good gifts, and promises. Put another way- our health, our bodies, our ideas, our dreams, our hopes, our stories, our questions, our money, our time, our passions, our talents, our treasures, our vocations, the beautiful creation that is all around us, and our relationships are all part of our stewardship- as we steward all that we are and all that we have; and recognize that these things have all been entrusted to our care to manage or steward by God. Stewardship then is about our response to all that God has done and continues to do for us.
In Abraham’s case, how did Abraham respond to God’s promises and covenant? How did Abraham respond to the gift of the birth of a son, Isaac?
Legacy Abraham, like many people, was concerned about legacy. Legacy is a stewardship thing. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to be remembered for? What impact or story do you hope inspires those who come after you?
Although at his age, Abraham probably had come mostly to terms with the fact that he wouldn’t have any descendants, he still likely pondered what kind of legacy he would leave. However, when given a promise of descendants, he would misunderstand or take it upon himself to do something about this, and hence, he would go to Hagar, and Ishmael would be born. Even with this, God still loved Abraham and fulfilled the promise of descendants. Through Isaac and Ishmael both God would make Abraham’s descendants like the stars, beautiful, unique, and scattered. This is quite the legacy, to have so many descendants, who are signs and part of the promise God made with Abraham in the covenant.
Promises- Stories, Sharing, and Faith The way Abraham lived his life… through his faith in action, also said something about his stewardship. He wasn’t afraid to share of his faith in God with those he met. He did so, because he trusted the promises God made with him, so this was another way that Abraham lived out his faith, and stewarded it. I wonder, how does the way you live your life show how the good news and promises of God have impacted you?
Thanks Though it’s never directly mentioned in Genesis, I believe that Abraham was grateful for all that God has done. I imagine he was a man filled with great thanksgiving to God for living 175 years of abundant life, full of mystery, unexpected adventures, and faithful journeying, I believe Abraham died a man thankful for the covenant and relationship he knew with God. And as much as asking and telling the story are crucial parts of a life of stewardship, obviously thanking and living a life of gratitude is equally a part of it.
Invitation to God’s Promises- What does this mean for us? So, like a good Lutheran, I have a question. What does this mean? What does this mean for us today, here at St. Mark’s? What does this mean in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation?
Not only do I think Abraham in this case is an example for us, of what faith in action and depth looks like. I think he is an example of one of God’s stewards, a steward of the mysteries, love, and promises of God.
Since moving to Nebraska last fall, and in my first year in this call as a deacon in the church, serving as the synod’s Director for Stewardship I have seen and heard stories of congregations filled with great generosity, of stewards who know that they have unique callings and passions to respond to the needs of the world. They do so, out of joy and gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do- like for Abraham, providing life, hope, and purpose. And as we know through Christ, in our Lenten journey, providing hope, resurrection, and life eternal and abundant.
I have been struck by the way congregations support the work of the larger church through their Mission Share contributions which go to support building up new leaders and pastors, like your own wonderful pastor, Pastor Barb Oshlo. These contributions also make other work of the church possible, such as the work of the church’s many serving arms like Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, and Lutheran World Relief; as well as the creation of new, transforming, and redeveloping ministries, sensing that God is up to something and feeling called to be a part of God’s on-going work in the world.
Summing it all Up Abraham was impacted in ways that even he could not have imagined by God’s promises. We too are impacted by the promises of God, of a God who has come near to us, and meets us where we are, out of love for us. This love leads us out from here into the way we live our lives, and meet our neighbors. This love guides us forward, like it did Abraham in faith, not knowing where we might always be going but trusting, that in our journey, God is with us, leading us, and supporting us, as stewards God has called and entrusted with this work.
Thank you for being a part of this work, and for journeying faithfully hand-in-hand with your sisters and brothers across this synod, the larger church, and all around the world. To close, let us pray.
Journey prayer O God, you have called your servants like Abraham to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils and joys unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.