This Week’s Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neighbor Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Image Credits: The links and Bishop Maas knocking.

Beyond Grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Keep Listening

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

2. Keep Learning 

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

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

3. Embody the gratitude authentically

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

4. Keep Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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. 

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Collaboration Ministries

I have mentioned before about how grateful I am for my family of origin. Together over the past few years, they have discerned and created a new organization called “Collaboration Ministries.” Check out the organization’s website for more on the particulars, but in the following post, I share a few things that I am particularly excited about regarding this organization’s vision, mission, and scope. 

It is easy to look around your community, state, country, and the world and be discouraged. You might wonder, how come we can’t work together? Why does it seem impossible to rally around the common good?

In response to such depressing thoughts, and in the hopes of a brighter future, Collaboration Ministries was born.

The organization began through creating “menternships” or gap year experiences for young adults after college and before jumping into the workforce or graduate studies. After a few years of these offerings, it was time to dream. The organization’s first real brainstorming meeting  occurred around a hotel pool in the Twin Cities in Minnesota a few years ago.

From that, and in the work done since, Collaboration Ministries has become,

“a faith based social innovation consultancy composed of highly trained and skilled practitioners dedicated to facilitating strategic thinking and action of complex issues and problems. We are particularly focused on assisting faith based organizations, non-profits, government agencies and businesses striving to be social entrepreneurs in order to support Community Building, Creation Care, and Global Engagement.”

This vision alone gets me excited, but there are a number of things which I am excited about to watch this organization’s work and future unfold, as a family member, and as someone supportive of the organization at an arm’s length (or more) of distance.**

With the vision understood, here are my top nine other things that get me excited about the organization and its potential.

  1. Whenever my parents get excited and are passionate about something, things happen. Seeing how they are both creating opportunities and pursuing possibilities is exciting to watch from afar.
  2.  The principals combined have experience working on three different continents in a wide range of countries and contexts.
  3. The principals bring a wealth of experience and education to the table to think creatively and strategically. Between the team, there are six bachelors degrees and six masters degrees. Fields of study have ranged from management to social work, from music to religion, from psychology to economics, from theology to urban and regional planning.
  4. In the organization’s early days it provided full year “menternships” for at least three young adults in post-college discernment. From those, one has become a pastor, another a music teacher and professional, and another, a congregational and community director and coordinator.
  5.  Collaboration Ministries is built on the principles of accompaniment, appreciative inquiry, and the potential of world spirit labs, with a great appreciation for the power and importance of vocation.
  6. The strategies and practices have been diagramed in organizational and leadership diagrams which, for a management trained person like myself, are fun to look at and think about.
  7. Collaboration Ministries does not claim to offer easy answers. Rather, it wants to come alongside, discern, journey with, and work together for long-term sustainable growth and change in response to needs in communities and unique contexts.
  8. Project areas have included areas related to: climate stresses & eco-system stresses; congregational problems; economic opportunities; housing; infrastructure and services; juvenile justice; public health & well-being; racism; stakeholder engagement & organization mission achievement; and technology and connectedness.
  9. This organization offers cross-sector experience to respond creatively and sustainably to particular problems and challenges, bringing innovative and entrepreneurial ideas to bear. For example, how might a congregation (nonprofit) partner with a local business to create life supporting jobs and opportunities, housing, and meet other needs to help build a community? These are some of the type of questions that Collaboration Ministries can help explore.

What are your big questions? Might an organization like Collaboration Ministries be able to help you think about them?

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-9-34-58-am

Check out the organization’s website, and see what you think. If you have feedback, ideas, or questions, please send them to the team.

**In the interest of full disclosure, Collaboration Ministries is led by my parents. In addition to them, my siblings, spouse and I are all part-owners. However, because of my role as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, I am currently a partner in name only. In caution for any perceived or potential conflicts of interest, I will not be doing any work or networking in Nebraska as part of Collaboration Ministries while serving in the Nebraska Synod, and most likely I would only be contributing through occasional writing projects and review of other projects from afar. 

Love in Action

Faith Lutheran in Seward, Nebraska
Faith Lutheran in Seward, Nebraska

This past weekend I was invited to preach, lead worship, and lead an adult forum at Faith Lutheran Church in Seward, Nebraska on Sunday November 20th, 2016. My sermon was part of the congregation’s three week stewardship focus on “Faith in Action. Grace in Action. Love in Action.” It was a great pleasure to be with the congregation, and what follows is the majority of the text that I preached. The message based on the day’s theme gospel passage, Luke 6:32-38, as well as lessons from Isaiah 58:3-8, and 1 John 4:13, 16-20

“But love your enemies… Be merciful… Forgive… and Give.” These are some of the things that love looks like. These are some of the attributes of what God’s love looks like, and point to who God is. They are also charges for us today.

Taking a step back, what a rich text this is. And what a challenging gospel passage it is for this Christ the King Sunday, the day we traditionally celebrate Christ’s victory over death, remembering that Christ’s kingdom, kingly authority and rule is grounded in an active love, like that of one who gets down on their knees to wash their neighbor’s feet clean.

Today is also a day that allows us to remember that no matter what may happen in the world, no matter how exciting or deeply troubling an election cycle, God in Christ is present, with us, and for us. As today is Christ the King Sunday, it is also the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday, begins a new year in the life of the church, with the first Sunday of Advent. Pastor Rob will be back up front leading and preaching, and I will be at my wife’s church in Fontanelle for her first Advent as a pastor, being the good pastor’s spouse helping hang the greens and put up the trees.

The stewardship theme on the church sign outside for all to see.
The stewardship theme on the church sign outside for all to see, “Faith, Grace, and Love in Action.”

But for today, it is a great privilege to be with you on this the third Sunday of your three week stewardship emphasis, “Faith in Action. Grace in Action. Love in Action.”

What might this love in action mean? We get a glimpse in this week’s gospel. Love in action is far greater than just showing love and sharing with those you like, your closest family and friends. This love in action is a genuine willingness to be in relationship with people you might otherwise choose to not spend time with. This love in action, is a genuine love and concern for the neighbor, and it is grounded in our joyful response to the love and pure gifts of God who we know most clearly through Jesus Christ in the stories of the gospels.

Pastor Rob described it well in the stewardship letter he wrote writing that, “in Christ Jesus, God has not only loved the unloveable, God has put God’s love into action, healing, helping, and feeding even God’s enemies, and given us God’s own Spirit, so we too may love.”

This love for the world and for the neighbor is a central part of the Gospel of Luke. Biblical scholar Justo Gonzalez writes that Luke “wants to make clear that Christian love is not just a sentiment or a feeling, but also an attitude leading to concrete action,” like “do good to those who hate you.”[1]

Today’s passage comes as part of Luke’s recounting of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, similar to the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Today we started in verse 32. But the immediately preceding verse in chapter 6 is “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”[2] This is commonly held as a “golden rule.” For Luke, however, this goes a bit further, and is explained in the way the gospel continues about the importance of loving your enemies, forgiveness, and giving without expectation of any return. According to theologian Luke Timothy Johnson, “The ‘golden rule’ of ‘do as you would want done’ is not the ultimate norm here, but rather, ‘do as God would do.’” [3] The core then of what neighbor love means, or what it means to love your neighbor, is to “do as God would do.”

How on earth can we do that? We’re not God, and thanks be to God for that. Thanks be to God, that it is not up to us to earn salvation. Thanks be to God, that it is not up to us, to figure out the mysteries of life, and God’s promises. But because of these promises, and the pure gifts of God, we are able, and perhaps even called to respond to them, through our love in action.

I mean think for a second. Here we have a God, who loves us so much, that God sends God’s Son, to live among us, to die, and rise again for us. That’s the work of salvation. And it’s a gift, we can’t do anything about, but say thank you and then choose to live a life of a joyful response to that good news. And with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can, as a community, discern how God is calling us to live and be in the world.

Through the Holy Spirit, we are led and shown ways to bear God’s love in this beautiful and exciting yet broken and hurting world.

One of the many ways that this congregation is showing love in action.
One of the many ways that this congregation is showing love in action.

We heard some of them in the different readings for today. As the prophet Isaiah reminds, when the bonds of injustice are loosened, when the pressure or weight of the yoke is relieved and removed, when the oppressed are set free, when we share our food with the hungry, when we offer warmth and shelter to the homeless, and clothe those who are naked, without any qualification, other than people needing help, that as when we do as God would do.[4]

When we welcome the refugee and stranger, sharing in the work of organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Lutheran Family Services here in Nebraska, doing the important work of refugee resettlement, that is as God would do, as we remember soon that the Holy Family itself was refugees shortly after Christ’s birth.

When we speak up and work with and for those who are at the margins, people who are victims or pushed aside because of perceived differences, walls, barriers, or fears, that is as what God would do.

We sing with the psalmist, that “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”[5] This is a love that abides even in times of fear. This is a steadfast love that continues, even when we lose our way and think that we cannot do it. This is a love that is slow to anger, but it doesn’t mean, that God doesn’t ever get angry.

When we don’t do as God would do, and willingly don’t; when we don’t heed God’s call to love, then the woes that the Gospel of Luke shares a little earlier in chapter 6 become very real. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”[6]

I should step back. I am passionate about this, as I hope all of you are. This was the central idea of my thesis in seminary, so when Pastor Rob invited me to preach and told me of today’s gospel passage I was overjoyed, yet a bit dreading it, because it is such a central passage to my faith understandings.

This idea of neighbor love, love in action, can be convicting, and one that calls us all to confess and seek God’s forgiveness, grace, and steadfast love.

We may see all the needs around us, the challenges and problems in the world, and choose to recoil, retract, and hide. It might be a natural “flight” response. However, we can’t fly away and hide. Because, we believe in a God who shows up, that means we need to too.

We know that “God is love.”[7] We also know that this love is both beautifully simple, and overwhelmingly complex. “We love because God first loved us.” Yet, we also know that, Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”[8]

We are created by a God who knows and loves us. We are called by this God, to be bearers of this love in the world.

We are called, “to love our enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.”[9] What might this mean for us two weeks after our country, state, and local elections? What might this mean for this congregation, a vibrant community of faith here in Seward, a loving community, but like many, one where conflict has probably surfaced over the years for one reason or another as it responds to a changing world?

We are called, to “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful.”[10] What might this mean for us, in the midst of one of the most divisive and polarized chapters of our country’s history? What might this mean for us as Lutheran Christians, bearers of a wonderful theology of grace, that allows us to live in the tensions of a Kingdom of God that is both “now and not yet?” What might this mean of a tension that Martin Luther describes of us both being “free, bound to none; and yet, also at the same time, servants, bound to our neighbors”?

We are called, to “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”[11] When we passed the peace this morning, did anyone seek out someone they needed to forgive, or seek forgiveness from?

If my wife was here today, I would have walked over, given her a big hug, and asked for her forgiveness. You see, being that we’re new to Nebraska we just moved into her church’s parsonage a week ago Friday, so there are still boxes everywhere. The stress of that, and of figuring out what it means for us both to be rostered leaders of the church, has reared its ugly head in the form of my impatience lately. And I, like I assume many spouses, have not been as loving and kind as I am called to be. And that’s something I need to seek forgiveness for.

But beyond our partners in life, to be in relationship with each other in general, our neighbors, and our strangers, means to be willing and vulnerable to admit when we are wrong, and to forgive. This is perhaps the biggest sign of God’s love in action, the reconciliation that is made possible through it. It’s also perhaps the hardest aspect of showing that love in the world.

We are called and reminded to, “Give, and it will be given to you.”[12] How are you giving that which God has entrusted to you? How do you steward your finances and money for the sake of God’s work in the world? How do you steward your time responding to the needs you see here, in your homes and families, out in the community of Seward, across the state of Nebraska, and the larger world? How do you steward your passions, vocations, and gifts, responding to God’s unique call to each and every one, to use what has been given, for the sake of our neighbors in need? The answers to these questions are different for everyone. But they start to tell the story of who you are as a steward of God’s love. And they point to “love in action.”

This love in action, unique to each and everyone’s own individual stories, is grounded in a love that we know through Jesus, who, as we know through baptism and communion, is the king who is, “given for you,” “shed for you,” and “with you to the very end of the age.” These promises of Christ’s relationship with us, send us out, and allow us to be in a relationship with each other, and all others, who have been created and are loved by God.

I have only been on the ground in Nebraska for two months, but one thing is very clear to me. This synod, its 245 congregations are very generous, and understand what it means to be the church together by showing ‘love in action.’

“Love in action” in Nebraska means sponsoring Campus Ministry at college campuses across the state. It means supporting the work of serving arms of the church like Mosaic and Lutheran Family Services in responding to the needs of people in our midst, who otherwise, might be pushed to the margins or forgotten in the shadow behind one of society’s many walls.

Sharing the Children's Message at Faith, while the kids and much of the congregation are wearing their "God's Work, Our Hands" shirts for service projects and ministry after worship.
A photo taken by one of the members of Faith, while I was sharing the Children’s Message, while the kids and much of the congregation are wearing their “God’s Work, Our Hands” shirts for service projects and ministry after worship.

Love in action means supporting new and transforming ministries, and the raising up of new leaders for service in the church and the world. Love in action means sponsoring food banks, care closets, community gardens, sewing and sending quilts, building homes, wearing your yellow “God’s Work, Our Hands” shirts that you are wearing today as signs of your love in action, and so many more local congregational responses to the needs in the community.

Love in action means equipping each and every one of the 100,000 members of the ELCA in Nebraska, like you, to know that each person is loved by God, called, and created for unique vocations, and doing God’s work in the world whether it’s easily seen or not.

Also, in my first two months here, I have come to believe, that your pastor, Pastor Rob, is a wise and loving pastor who deeply understands God’s love and stewardship, who also shows ‘love in action.’ In his stewardship letter, he also wrote, “God has given us God’s spirit, living in us, tugging at our hearts when we don’t hide from our neighbors in need. That is love. Stewardship of the gifts God has given us is Faith, Grace, and Love in action.”

How do you steward all that you have been entrusted with and all that you are?

How you answer that, is how you show love in action.

And for each and every one of your answers to that question, I say, on behalf of the larger church, the other 244 congregations of the Nebraska Synod, and as a fellow participant with you in God’s work in the world, thank you! Thank you for showing love to your neighbors. Thank you for living and doing as God would have you do. Thank you, for your shared ministry together. And thank you, most importantly, for being you, for sharing your stories, and showing God’s love in your midst. Amen.

Works Cited and Referenced:

[1] Gonzalez, 94.

[2] Luke 6:31.

[3] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina 3, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 112, as quoted by Justo Gonzalez in Luke, 94.

[4] Isaiah 58:6-7.

[5] Psalm 103:8.

[6] Luke 6:24-26.

[7] 1 John 4:16.

[8] 1 John 4:19-20.

[9] Luke 6:35.

[10] Luke 6:36.

[11] Luke 6:37.

[12] Luke 6:38.