“Stewards of God’s Love” Ash Wednesday Sermon, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday • February 18, 2015

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

I’m grateful for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s publication “Stewards of God’s Love.” It is an important resource in this sermon and worship series. Click here to view a copy of the entire document.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, today is Ash Wednesday. On this day, you and I join millions of Christians throughout the world as the holy season of Lent begins. Ash Wednesday is a day when brothers and sisters in Christ gather in worship and receive a mark on their foreheads with ashes as these words are spoken, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” These words and a tiny amount of black ash placed on our foreheads remind us of our mortality, but that’s not all. In this sacred moment on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of whose we are. And whose we are is something that we are invited to remember every day in our life in Christ.

I’m excited about our journey through lent this year as a community of faith at Good Shepherd. You and I will have many additional opportunities to worship together, times of conversation and community building as we share meal each week, and daily invitations to scripture study, devotion and prayer. Through all of these discipleship practices, I hope and pray that you and I will grow in our life together as stewards of God’s love. Our theme is Stewards of God’s Love: The Down, In, and Out of Being a Disciple of Jesus.

IMG_1759According to Clarence Stoughton, former president of Wittenberg University, “stewardship is everything we do after we say ‘I believe.’ It is the way in which we use all of the resources that God has entrusted to our care so that we can love God and our neighbor. Stewardship is about love.”

So…over the next 6 weeks, you and I will enter into a time of exploring what it means to be a steward of God, a disciple of Jesus at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota in 2015. And for many of us, this will require a shift in the way we think about stewardship. If you were at any of the Shepherd’s Table events last fall, you might remember this video clip.

Click here to view the video clip.

In the past, the Christian church often thought of stewardship as only about paying the bills. The shift that is taking place today and connects us to the ancient beauty of God’s work through the church is that stewardship is about loving God and my love neighbor.

Many believe that stewardship is about money, whereas the story of stewardship that we receive in scripture and the ancient practices of the God’s people since the beginning of creation [click] is that stewardship is about my whole self. [click] The question “how much of what is mine should I give away?” is really not relevant to a disciple of Jesus. Instead, the question is “how much of what is God’s should I keep for myself?” And, the escalator stopping statement “we don’t have enough” becomes a new reality that a stuck escalator is just a metal staircase. This frees us to celebrate the fact that “God has provided for us in abundance” as individuals and as a community of faith.

Throughout our Lenten worship series, we will look at three actions that take place in our life together as stewards of God, disciples of Jesus.

The first movement is Down. God first comes down to us in the beginning of creation. From the very beginning of creation, we are not the owner – God is. And as stewards, we are called to care for what has always been and will always be – God’s.

God has skillfully created us and blessed us with more than we could ever imagine. In second Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” When we realize that all we have belongs to God and not to us, we can’t help but give it away in thanksgiving for God’s generosity. We give joyfully, graciously and sacrificially because we know that our resources are not ours to keep but are God’s to share.

And finally, we look out to see how God is calling us to love our neighbor with all that God has entrusted to our care. Stewardship transforms God’s commandment to “love our neighbors as ourselves” from a religious expression into a way of life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we practice stewardship in this way we are making the sign of the cross. God makes the first vertical line DOWN; we follow by moving IN to the center and then OUT to our neighbors on either side both near and far. I hope and pray that the next six weeks of our life together will help you and I grow deeper in our understanding of the ways that stewardship is directly tied to discipleship. One simply cannot exist without the other in our life of faith.

You and I form a cross with our lives and through our faith, we are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever…called to be stewards of God’s love, disciples of Jesus the Christ, claimed unconditionally as God’s children. This will be our journey over the next six weeks together. I look forward walking with you along the way.

On this Ash Wednesday, as you feel the grit of the ash rub across the smooth skin of your forehead, may remember that you are God’s. That you have been chosen by God and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Forever.

Thanks be to God! Amen.


“Don’t Forget to Fly the Plane.” Sermon 02.08.2015

Mark 1:29-39 • February 8, 2015

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

There are two themes that I believe are closely related in our reading from Saint Mark today – healing and prayer. I’m going to guess that you can make several connections between these two themes – between healing and prayer. Think about healing and prayer for a few seconds, especially in light of today’s gospel reading.

Now, I invite you to turn to someone near you and share with them the connection you are making right now as you think about this.

It was just a few days after Christmas in 1972 on a flight from New York to Miami – filled with holiday travelers. As Eastern Airlines flight 401 was beginning its final approach into the Miami International Airport for landing, the pilot and crew noticed the cockpit light that indicates the landing gear has deployed correctly failed to come on. The crew of the plane wasn’t sure if the light bulb was just malfunctioning or if the plane’s landing gear had indeed not come down. They began circling over the everglade swamps to give them a little time to investigate.

To begin with, the flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn’t budge. Another member of the crew tried to help out…and then another. The entire crew was fixated by this little light bulb. Eventually, the plane just dropped out of the sky.

None of the crew bothered to notice that the place was losing altitude. There were 101 fatalities out of the 175 passengers and crew on-board that plane. A seasoned and experienced flight crew had become so preoccupied with a 75 cent light bulb that they forgot their role on this flight from New York to Miami – to fly the plane.

Before Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Jesus get to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house, they have already had a busy day. Preaching, teaching, casting out demons in the synagogue, etc. etc. I think that they were hoping to get a little rest. Which is why they chose Simon’s mother-in-law’s house as their hideout. Nobody will find them there. It’ll give them a chance to get something to eat and get away from the crowds for a little while.

But in staying true to Mark’s style of writing this gospel, there is no time for that. In Mark’s gospel the plot moves along quickly. As Jesus proclaims just a few verses before today’s reading – “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” (vs. 15) Mark’s gospel is very passionate about getting to the point of what Jesus means when he says “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus seems to barely make it through the front door of Simon’s mother-in-law’s house when he is called back into action – there is a fever. A fever that needs Jesus’ healing touch. And throughout the rest of the day, countless more are healed as the “whole city is gathered at the door” (vs. 33) of the house.

It’s fascinating to me that Jesus’ healings in Mark’s gospel don’t speak of a person’s great faith or even belief in Jesus. In today’s reading, it’s quite possible that Simon’s mother-in-law has never heard anything about Jesus. I mean, Jesus just called Simon to be a disciple a few verses earlier.

As one commentary lifted up this week, “it’s easy to think that all we have to do is pray and Jesus will heal us of everything that ails us. The reality is that we live in a world where bodies still get sick and die…that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t hear our prayers and isn’t with us!” (www.faithformationjourneys.org)

Jesus is with Simon’s mother-in-law without her even asking for Jesus to be with her or knowing who this guy named Jesus is.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, here’s the connection I hope we make today between these overarching themes of healing and prayer. What’s the result of these things? I believe today’s gospel reading lifts up this central message not only for today’s story, but the truth about all of the gospel accounts of Jesus and really the entirety of all scripture and our life together in Christ.

And Professor David Lose said it much better than I can, so I will use the words he wrote this week, “God wants to set free all of us so that we might live into our God-given identity and potential, claiming our calling as children of God, and join God in the mission to love and bless the world.” (www.davidlose.net/2015/02/epiphany-5-b-freedom-for/)

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. And in this healing he restores her to the purpose that God had called her to live out in the world. To serve in her household. And as anyone who has ever been graced with the hospitality of a great host or hostess knows, the result of this woman’s service is a great blessing to anyone who enters her house.

Jesus has had an incredibly busy few days of preaching and healing. Early in the morning he sneaks away to be alone for a little while and pray. Even Jesus, the savior of the world, needs a little time to reconnect with the source of his power.

Simon’s mother-in-law is healed in order for her to continue to serve others who visit her home.

Jesus’ goes to a deserted place to pray in order that he may continue to serve by proclaiming the message of God’s kingdom come near.

So…here’s the connection between healing and prayer in today’s text that I hope we receive. The result of healing for Simon’s mother-in-law and for Jesus after his time in prayer joins them both to God, in God’s mission to love and bless the world.

The great Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Each day, you and I are in need of healing. For Jesus to take us by the hand and lift us up.
Each day, you and I need time away for prayer with the only one who can fully restore us.
And, believe it or not, each day you are gifted by God in amazing ways…to serve.

How do you and I respond to the unending presence of God in our lives?

How do you and I experience Jesus’ taking us by the hand and lifting us up each day, offering healing in order for us to be restored to serve where God is calling us to serve on that day?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how is God calling you to serve this week? Don’t forget to fly the plane.

I invite you to turn to someone right now and share with them how you feel God is calling you to serve this week. Feel free to get up and move around if you want…


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