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!

Bishop maas knocks
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.

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. 

How might we show the #Fruit of the Spirit?

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 7th, is “Fruit.”

20170307_092938
An apple, a glass of water, and some great books on the book shelf. Good fruit to start the morning in my office.

Did you grow up hearing the adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”

I’m not sure I ever believed that, but as I think back to a year living in California where I probably had my best balanced diet and did my most walking ever, I could see the merit in it. I did in fact nearly have an apple a day that year, and I was hardly ever sick. So, maybe there is a correlation?

In thinking of apples and fruit today, I am thinking about the fruit of the spirit.

The apostle Paul writes,

“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:22-26, NRSV.

Sometimes you might hear these fruits and think of someone as a passive, mild, and meek individual. Perhaps they are. But “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” are not always easy things, and often they require more action, strength, courage, and leadership than we might expect.

I suspect that this year will be such a year where these fruits will require more action than many of us are used to. Are we up for the task with God’s help?

To put it another way, ponder these questions with me:

  1. Are we up to the task and calling to show love to all people, no matter if we agree with them at all times or not?
  2. Are we able to find joy, like the joy of a child in our life, joy in God’s gift and promise of abundant life?
  3. Are we able to center ourselves in the assurance of the peace that surpasses all understanding?
  4. Will we strive to be patient with those we live, love, and serve with, as well as those whom we are in relationship with?
  5. Are we able to show kindness to all, especially those marginalized, victimized, living in fear of decisions and potential decisions being made that could turn life upside down or worse?
  6. Are we willing to be generous at all times because God is generous?
  7. Will we be faithful by: living among God’s faithful people, hearing the word of God and sharing in the Lord’s supper, proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, serving all people following the example of Jesus, and striving for justice and peace in all the earth?
  8. In all that we do, will we strive to live gently with those around us, working to reconcile and strengthen relationships?
  9. Will we exercise self-control to the best of our abilities?

These are lots of questions, and I’m not sure that I could answer all of these in the affirmative. But perhaps they are helpful in light of centering ourselves this season of Lent, and in living out our baptismal callings and vocations as Children of God?

However you answer these questions inspired by the fruit of the spirit, know that we are in this together as Children of God, called, created, and loved by a God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Let us close today’s reflection with a prayer often heard following baptism or the affirmation of the congregation:

We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.

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. 

References: Question 7 was taken from the affirmation of baptism liturgy along with the closing prayer, found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), pages 236-237.

From Where Shall My #Help Come

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 6th, is “Help.”

The psalms are filled with cries for help and songs of pleading for deliverance. Here are just four examples, three from the psalmist and one from the Lord:

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your name’s sake.” – Psalm 79:9. 

Help me, O Lord my God; save me according to your steadfast love.” – Psalm 109:26.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” – Psalm 121:1. 

“‘Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will give them the help they long for.'” – Psalm 12:5.  

As I think about what it means to help, I am struck by how much we all need help. These verses above illustrate just some of the ways we need God’s help. We can’t deliver ourselves. We can’t forgive our own sins. We can’t save ourselves. And often, we really can’t save ourselves from ourselves.

From where shall my help come?

olympics
On a cloudy day on the afternoon after I was consecrated as a deacon in Poulsbo, the Olympic Mountains are starting to break through the clouds.

Inspired by Psalm 121, I have always thought of this passage with the images I had growing up, going to school and being able to see the beauty of the Olympic Mountains in one direction, and often Mount Rainier in a different direction. I guess that might be the benefit of having grown up in Washington state where there aren’t just hills, but mountains.

Perhaps the illustration lacks effect in places without mountains, but hopefully it illustrates the notion of seeing something grand, majestic, and bigger than ourselves. At the same time, this bigger and majestic hill or mountain, can be daunting or frightening to climb or travel across, only possible through God’s help or deliverance.

In what ways are you feeling that you, or others you know, need help right now?

rainier
Mount Rainier as I saw it from my plane last fall on a flight from Seattle to Omaha.

When we come together as people, we can do a lot of good to help one another as God calls us to do.

But when close ourselves off from community, build walls and hide behind them, and when we turn our back on our neighbors in need, we are the ones really needing help. For we have lost sight of why we are here and why God has created us.

For all those in need, our selves included, let us pray this prayer from Martin Luther,

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen. 

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. 

Source: “A prayer from Martin Luther,” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 87.

Honest Reflections of the Heart

It’s already late February. My birthday has come and gone, a big one actually this year in terms of milestones. (Yay for a new decade… I think.) Where has the year gone? I haven’t blogged as often as I like. I have been still figuring out what life is like in a new place, Nebraska, and in a new capacity, as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship.

My heart is full of joy, love, and purpose. 

immanuel-2
The staff of the Nebraska Synod gathered together before Christmas in December 2016.

This I do know- I love my job, ministry, and call. I love my team of colleagues, friends, and peers, who serve alongside me and whom partner together to serve in their various vocations and callings- for the sake of their neighbor, God’s work and mission in the world, and the spreading of the Good News of the promises of God. I love the community and congregation my wife and I are a part of. And I am excited for the year ahead.

At the same time, my heart hurts. 

I hurt as I see the continued rise in hatred and bigotry. I hurt as I see ill-conceived policies and decisions being enacted without apparent concern for compassion and humanity.

I could respond to a long list of decisions through news stories and commentaries, but I trust you see enough of those where you get your news and in your social media feeds. I could get on my soapbox and explain why theologically I feel so unnerved by many of these decisions. But today, I want to stick to a societal argument, if possible.

Policies and decisions enacted by leaders are not just for themselves. In a business world, there is truth that those decisions are for shareholders and customers. But in a civil society, those decisions are for the elusive and hard to define, “common good.”

for-the-common-good
How do you define the “common good?”

Everyone defines the concept differently, but it’s one that we must hold at the center of our decision making to be able to collaborate and live together in community. If we do not, then we really do not have much holding us together at all, except for some malleable laws and rights, which hopefully have universal meaning.

It’s my opinion (and my opinion alone), that many of the decisions and policies currently being enacted do not have the common good in mind. And I wonder, if the reason for this is because there is a misunderstanding of the role of government and civil society? I was taught and modeled in school and previous career opportunities, that leadership in such environments is a privilege and a gift. But most importantly, leadership in such capacity is service!

Leadership is service. Government is service. 

It’s not about popularity. It’s not about power. It’s not about partisanship on any side. It’s about service, and particularly serving for the common good of our shared ideals- those grounded in the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. And also adapting as those ideals must evolve as our understanding of science, people, technology, and the world change over time. But through such change, we must hold on to the importance of service for the sake of the common good.

Why does my heart hurt?

  • Because those currently enacting policies and decisions don’t seem to understand this- the very notion of service and common good.
  • Because instead of moving to unite across party politics, campaign rallies are still being held by those elected.
  • Because the fourth estate, the press, is being singled out as the enemy, and those who offer differing opinions and protest or resist are being dismissed as the enemy or a few “paid” people.

Until these concerns are addressed, my heart will likely continue to hurt. And at the same time, protests and resistance will grow stronger and louder.

here-i-am
Here I am, grateful. Happy and willing to talk with you, because we are in relationship with each other.

So here I am. A person who is grateful for the role I am in, my vocation, and calling. At the same time, a person who is convicted by my understandings of leadership and theology by what I am seeing in my country that I love, and in God’s beautiful yet hurting and broken world that is thirsting and in need for reconciliation.

Wherever you are, know that I am here. A fellow Child of God, happy and willing to talk with you, because whether we agree or not, we are in relationship with each other as citizens of society, and people created in the Image of God. As you wrestle with your daily life, call, questions, ideas, dreams, worries, and wonderings, know that I too do so. We’re in this together. And God is here with us too.

On one other note, it is my plan to return to daily blogging on Ash Wednesday, blogging a short reflection each day during Lent. I hope to be able to follow through on that plan. We’ll see starting next week. Until then, blessings and peace friends, and thank you for reading, serving in your vocations, and being part of the conversation and work together.  -Timothy

Image Credit: For the Common Good

Child of God, Kingdom of Heaven, & the Love of the Refugee- our Neighbor

I was invited to preach this past weekend by my wife, Pastor Allison Siburg, at our congregation, Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska. When I was invited weeks ago, I was excited because the lectionary readings (Epiphany 4A) included a few of my favorites. That invitation, however, came before the refugee ban. In the midst of this, I shared what was on my heart. I have to admit, I was more nervous to preach this past weekend than I often am. But here is what I came up with and preached on Sunday January 29, 2017. 

The following sermon was based on the readings of Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and Matthew 5:1-12. Included at the beginning of the manuscript is a poem that I found on Sunday January 29th. When I preached I did not include it in its entirety, just the final stanza. For the purpose of the blog, however, I have included it in full. 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.[1] Grace and peace from the one who knows you, claims you, and loves you. Amen.

I would like to start with a poem I read on Facebook this morning that has been with me ever since. It’s called, “Heaven Has No Borders,” and was written by Minnesota pastor Luke Stevens-Royer.

Where was it, where we first fell
into the delusion of our separateness.
Of our “other-ness”?

Was it somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates,
or at the Rio Grande –
or near the Mississippi.
Somewhere down from the tower of babel,
we fell into the first sin –
of fearing difference.
And we began to build walls.

And the walls that we place
to seemingly protect ourselves
we soon realize are prison walls
isolating us from the fabric of life
from our kindred –
which is all people.


We’ve built walls of prejudice, fear,
and a delusional false sense
of rightful ownership –
as if we all aren’t guests
on any land we inhabit.

Heaven has no borders.
When we forget this,
we set up the gates of hell.

But something happens.
When the hard heart
is watered with empathy
and the closed soul
soaked in compassion
the rigid borders dissolve.

Something happens
when the people remember they are family
and we have the tools we need
like Joshua at Jericho
to dance down the wall –
the walls come tumbling down
crumble to dust from the dancing rhythm
of the songs, the poems, the common work
of love made flesh – enough love to save us all.

And again,
the question from ancient scripture
echoes in our moral conscience –
behold, says the stranger,
the immigrant, the refugee,
behold,
I stand at the door and knock –

will you lift up your gates?[2] – Luke Stevens-Royer

Most of you know that, though I’m most importantly your pastor’s spouse, I am also a deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America- one called to preach, teach, and serve. In this, I’m the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod. As the days grow longer, there’ll be about two weekends a month that you won’t see me, as I’ll be preaching in Kearney, Holdrege, Filley, Wahoo, and many other places in between.

Since coming to Nebraska, I have been to Scottsbluff, North Platte, Aurora, Wakefield, Nebraska City, and so many other places. I have heard stories of ministry in action, of communities loving their neighbors in unique ways. From supporting the work of Mosaic, to starting a care closet that has taken over an entire church basement, to congregations who have partnered with Lutheran Family Services to sponsor refugee families. And congregations, like this, who understand Jesus’ welcome and love at a deep, deep level- the welcome Jesus talks about when he says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”[3] like in the poem I opened with.

Looking at Today’s Words of God
That’s partly why it took me all week to be able to sit down and write a sermon. Today’s lectionary passages are some of the most well known in our faith- at least for describing who we are and what our character is called to be in our identity as Children of God, and the many vocations we serve as Children of God.

Psalm 15 asks, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”[4] These are questions which lead to a list of some of the marks of character- of what it means and looks like to be a Child of God.

In this tumultuous time, a time of change, fake news, irrational fears, and fear driven decision making, Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[5]

The prophet Micah asks and declares in one of my absolute favorite Bible verses, “O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God?”[6]

And then of course, there is today’s gospel- commonly called the “Beatitudes,” or blessings, the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus paints a vast picture of the changes and reversal only possible through God, a glimpse of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, and a description of just what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like and might be.

This is Good News. But it can also drive us all to our knees, when we see just how far we have yet to go as people, society, and Children of God. It can drive us to prayer, confession, repentance, and Kyrie’s or songs of “Lord have mercy.”

God’s vision is big. God’s children are many, if not all. Because, think about it, if God creates all people, then aren’t we all, God’s children?

The Relationship of being a Child of God and our Neighbors
Martin Luther famously wrote about this in his work, The Freedom of a Christian.[7] Luther wrote basically that, “We are all perfectly free people, bound to none.”

We are freed through the gifts and promises of God. Yet at the same time, “We are all servants, bound to our neighbors.” We exist, for the sake of our neighbor.

vigil-refugees
Some of the turnout for a vigil for Refugees that was held in Omaha, Nebraska on January 31, 2017. I was there along with Allison, a number of colleagues from across the Nebraska Synod, and people from all faith backgrounds.

But, just who is our neighbor? Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers as you probably know him, made a career out of this question. As a Presbyterian pastor, he knew the depth and complexity of it. We like to narrow our answer to who is our neighbor, to just a few people we like and can see, and certain groups of people we identify or agree with. The problem is, we can’t do this. We can’t narrow the definition of neighbor. If God creates all, if we’re all God’s children, we are then all neighbors to one another.

Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.[8] If the Samaritan man had given into societal norms, there would have been no “good Samaritan.” But the Samaritan saw across boundaries, walls, societal norms, and our human nature to group and judge people. He showed mercy to his neighbor in need. He did as Jesus preached on the mount, “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.”

Think of the Holy Family in the gospel story we heard earlier this month on New Year’s Day.[9] Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled to Egypt to escape the power thirsty murderer, Herod, who felt threatened by the prospect of a possible king in the form of an infant. The Holy Family fled as refugees to the land, generations earlier, which had enslaved their ancestors.

This story convicts me as I think of the world around me, and remember the work of our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ who responded to the refugee crisis of World War II by creating the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Today, it is the second largest refugee resettlement organization in the country. It is a serving arm of the church responding to the largest refugee crisis now since World War II, with the help of organizations like Lutheran Family Services here in Nebraska.

A Nebraska Immigrant’s Story[10]


This past week I heard the story of Afghan refugee Feroz Mohmand here in the local news.[11] Now a permanent resident in Omaha with his wife, for Mohmand, being a refugee and fleeing Afghanistan in 2012 was a matter of life or death. “The reason I became a refugee was not my choice,” he said. He said that he received a phone call saying that he would have less than 24 hours to leave his country if he wanted to stay alive.

Mohmand and his wife worked alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai to protect education and abolish terrorist groups like the Taliban. Because of their work, extremist groups made them targets for attack. One day, kidnappers almost took his son. He said that, every morning when he left home he would hug his family, and think this might be the last hug.

His family was relocated to the United States in 2013, but Mohmand says the process typically takes much longer– even years. It’s not uncommon, especially in the case of Syrian refugees now, to be in refugee camps for upwards of 3-4 years. Can you imagine not knowing where you’ll live for 3, 4, or more years?[12]

Modern Beatitudes
Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart from Houston, put it this way in light of the Beatitudes,

“Blessed are the refugees. Blessed are all 65 million people, those who are victims of war and poverty; those who have been evicted; those who cannot return home; those who seek a safe place for their children; those who are feared and despised; those hated by both sides of the conflict; those for whom nobody seems to care. You are children of God. And the people of God care about you.”[13]

We could add any numbers of needs here. For example,

“Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the 48 million hungry Americans, those who are ridiculed; those who work multiple jobs, just to give their kids a chance; those who rely on food stamps and credits to provide a safe home for orphans and foster children; those with homes, and those without; those for whom nobody seems to care. You are children of God. And the people of God care about you.”

Or, another,

“Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who serve and have served, to bring freedom, hope, and a new day; those who resist the sinful ways to meet violence with violence; those who resist the sinful feelings of supremacy and power; those who some people fear are too soft, and others who think they don’t do enough; those who do not receive the care and support that they so greatly deserve. You servants are children of God. And the people of God care about you.”

I could keep going, but I don’t think I need to, because I deeply believe you feel this call too- this call to respond to God’s promises and blessings.

bishop-maas-refugees
Bishop Brian Maas sharing, praying, and responding at the vigil in Omaha on January 31, 2017. He said that he was there because “his boss called him to be there.”

I have seen it- in the warm welcome you give and have given. I have seen it in the way that this congregation serves, listens, and dreams about what God might be calling us to be. In the great capacity to grow, teach, and serve; and how I have heard from many of you wondering about, what are some new ways we might be being called to serve today? What are some new projects that we might be being called to be part of?

God’s Promises Today
Today may seem uncertain. The news may excite or terrify us. But in-spite of this, and through this, we are called, created, and loved by a God who came into this world as one of us.

A God who walked alongside us, and taught us, like in his Sermon on the Mount; who challenged the powers that be, overturned the money tables in the Temple, and who always showed up with the people that common sense and society had seemingly marginalized and pushed aside; who, for us, faced death and the grave… And not only faced them, Jesus beat them at their own game, once and for all.

God in Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, is a gift- a free gift we can do nothing to earn. A gift of the promise of salvation- abundant life eternal, and thanks be to God for that.

But that begs the question. What will you do in response to this pure gift? Or, as I like to say when preaching on stewardship, what will your joyful response be?

For all that God has done for you, and promises to do, what will you be so caught up in joy for the goodness of God that you will do in love and gratitude for your neighbor? How will you serve your neighbor? Meet them, and join them? How will you welcome your neighbor, the refugee? How will your life and story show God’s love in the world around you?

In worship this year, we’ll continue to journey through the Gospel of Matthew. And not to steal any of my wife’s thunder, or to flip to the last page of the book, but the Gospel of Matthew ends with the Great Commission- a call to baptize and teach.[14] A call to share the Good News of a God who has come near, and who is for all.

There are stories to tell- stories of God at work in and through all our lives. Stories of blessings and woes, joys and sorrows. Stories of how God has shown up and continues to show up. Stories of how God calls us each into our various roles, daily lives, and vocations to serve our neighbors.

Tell your stories. Live your stories. And please, go about the work of what it means and looks like to be a Child of God. For all of this- all of you- are part of God’s on-going story of promise and redemption. A story of the Kingdom of Heaven in our world- yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Amen.

————————–

Citations and References: 

[1] Based on Psalm 19:14.

[2] “Heaven Has No Borders,” Luke Stevens-Royer, shared on Facebook, 28 January, 2017.

[3] Matthew 25:35, NRSV.

[4] Psalm 15:1, NRSV.

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:31, NRSV.

[6] Micah 6:8, NRSV.

[7] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, (1520), trans. Mark D. Tranvik, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008).

[8] Luke 10:25-37, NRSV.

[9] Matthew 2:13-23, NRSV.

[10] http://www.ketv.com/article/local-refugees-immigration-attorneys-react-to-president-trumps-executive-orders/8640197

[11] Ibid.

[12] If we turn our back on refugees, and all our neighbors in need, it’s not hard to imagine Jesus saying as Nebraska Bishop Brian Maas pointedly pondered this past week, “Depart from me… because I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.” From Bishop Brian Maas, Facebook post, 27 January, 2017, quoting and reminding of Matthew 25:43, NRSV.

[13] Bishop Michael Rinehart, Facebook post, 26 January, 2017.

[14] Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV.