Monthly Archives: October 2017

“Live Generously” 10.22.2017 Sermon

Philippians 2:1-12 • October 22, 2017

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

As we enter the second week of our fall stewardship series Live Generously, I’m guessing many of us might be scratching our heads at the scripture readings we are hearing. What does our theme verse from first Timothy or today’s gospel reading about the Image result for live generouslyhemorrhaging woman or the letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi have to do with stewardship? There is no mention of time, talents or treasure in these scripture readings. There is no call or plea for a godly use of resources. All of the common trappings of stewardship-related biblical texts that pastors are so well known to use during worship series like this are absent from these readings, right? Or are they?

Philippians is Paul’s most joyful letter. It is a letter of thanksgiving. It’s also a letter in which Paul gives ultimate thanks and praise to God for all that God has done for the Philippians – and you and me today – through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I believe that one of the core reasons that North American Christians struggle with God’s call to stewardship is the way that we have marginalized the practice of stewardship altogether. For too long, Christians – both pastors and church members alike – have associated stewardship with fundraising campaigns, pleas for volunteers, church meetings, and budgets.

Image result for give you my heartThe call to be stewards is far deeper than the need of the church for more of your money or begging you to volunteer for things that you really don’t want to volunteer for. Here’s the important point that I hope we hear today – The call to be stewards is directly connected to our relationship with God as recipients of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. As Pastor Pam reminded us last week, it’s about our heart.

Paul’s words to the Philippian church ask us to place our whole life into God’s eternal care. Not just our life during an annual fall stewardship series. Not just when we feel like paying attention to God. Our whole life. So as we consider our call to be stewards again this fall, we must think about our entire life of faith. We cannot separate stewardship from other parts of our existence. It’s simply not possible for those who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Image result for god's graceThe call to be stewards flows first from God’s gift of grace to us in Jesus. Simply stated, there is no other foundation or purpose to anything we are or do as Christians than Jesus. As Paul moves into the second chapter of Philippians, he places that foundation in Jesus at the center of our focus. Paul says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the spirit, any compassion and sympathy…” There’s supposed to be an obvious answer here to what Paul is asking. Of course there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, and sharing in the spirit. We find all of these things and more in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s next words to the church, “make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

If you’re like me, you have tried to do these things before…to make the joy of the Lord complete in your life and in the world around you with your own effort. And, if you’re like me, you’ve discovered that is impossible to do.

We try to find agreement with one another, yet fail time and time again.

We try to have the same love as Christ, but we fail to live up to that over and over.

We try to be generous, but fall short of our expectations as we fall back into quick fix self-gratifying things instead.

We are human. And as humans, we sin and fall short of the glory of God.

Too often our approach to stewardship starts by asking, “What can we do?” When we start with our own efforts, we set ourselves up for failure. Just like the focus of our discipleship is not on our own works, neither should the focus of our stewardship be about us.

Image result for god is doingWhen Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow him at the beginning of the gospel stories, he did not tell them they were good workers and would achieve great things as his disciples. Jesus told them to come and follow him and he would make them fish for people. Jesus did not call the first disciples to show their greatness through their own abilities. He called them to follow him, receive him, trust in him and find salvation through him. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus issues that same call to us in October 2017.

Before we can worry about what to do with this call, God invites us to witness what he has already done, what he’s doing right now, and what he will do for us in all the days to come through Jesus. The starting point to loving and serving God is receiving God’s good gift of grace that has already been given to us through the Savior of the world Jesus Christ. It is a free gift, that, no matter what we do or how hard we try, we can never earn. God’s love for us through Jesus is not something that can be bought or sold, traded or bargained for. Our identity as Christians does not come from our inherent goodness, from the things that we do or from the gifts we offer. Our identity as Christians comes to us from the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus.

And if receiving the gift of Jesus in our baptism is the beginning of being called a disciple, then it is also the beginning of our life as stewards.

While this may seem impossible to us, Paul continues in his Philippian letter by saying that it is God who is at work in us, enabling us to both will and work for God. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the Spirit empowers us to do the work of God.

When we share the gospel, it is not our effort, but God’s grace that allows it to take root and grow.

When we serve others, it is not our efforts, but God’s grace that blesses our service.

If we take Jesus as our example for service and discipleship, why should we not take him as our example of stewardship?

Image result for serve othersBuilt on the foundation of God’s great love for us through Jesus, our call to stewardship is simply about being stewards of God’s love. At Good Shepherd, we see this expressed in our mission and ministry “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

So stewardship, isn’t just about money, it never has been and it never will be. Stewardship is about our hearts. Jesus is God’s greatest gift to us. When we grasp the overwhelming love and grace and generosity this gift is for us, our words and hearts and behavior in every part of our lives will mirror our gratitude for the abundant riches we receive. Behind the sharing of money, of time, of talent, of our very selves, is the sharing of God’s love and grace which we have so richly received in Jesus Christ. God did not give us this love so that we could hold it for ourselves, but so we could share it with others.

In the days ahead, remember that God loves you and is abundantly generous toward you. As we continue our journey through the Live Generously stewardship series this fall, I invite you to set aside intentional time in order to explore how God is calling you to become an instrument of grace with a singing heart and a joyful, generous life. You and I are richly blessed. The Apostle Paul’s letter of thanksgiving to the ancient church in Phillipi is also a letter to the modern church of Good Shepherd today. How are the rich and abundant blessings we have already received being shared with others in thanksgiving?

Live generously brothers and sisters in Christ. Live generously. Amen.

Image result for live generously[I give thanks for Daniel L. Rudy’s reflection “The Gift of Christ” for much of the thematic content and inspiration for this sermon. Live Generously Stewardship Emphasis Worship Resources. Ecumenical Stewardship Center.]

“Are You Available?” 10.01.2017 Sermon

Matthew 21:23-32 • October 1, 2017

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

An owner of a small manufacturing company was asked by one of her employees to write a letter of recommendation. The owner wanted to be honest but also wanted the employee to find a new job because of his poor work ethic. She was a little reluctant to write the letter at first but eventually agreed. In the letter that she finally wrote, this is how it concluded, “if you get John to work for you, you will be extremely fortunate. Yours truly…”Image result for writing a letter

Today’s gospel reading is the second week in a series of three weeks where we find ourselves in the vineyard. I don’t know about you, but my only real experience with a vineyard was during a short vacation in Napa Valley California. And my time in the vineyards of Napa Valley had little to do with work or hard labor.

One of the reasons I hear from people who don’t read the Bible or study scripture as part of their faith journey is that they get stuck trying to relate to the story. Today might be one example of that if we are trying to relate to the story by relating it to our literal experiences of working in vineyards. I’m hoping we can move beyond that a little today.Image result for working in the vineyard

In her book Stitches, Anne LaMott wrote, “If there is a God, and most days I do think there is, He or She does not need us to bring hope and new life back into our lives, but keeps letting us help.” (Stitches, p. 60-61)
Here’s the thing about God’s work. God really doesn’t need us in order for God to be able to do the things God wants to do. I believe God can get it done without our helper our getting in the way as is more often the case. But for some strange reason, reasons that we’re probably not going to figure out in this life, God keeps insisting that we do in fact get to help.

Another story.

Image result for around the cornerA man applied for a job as a handyman. The prospective employer asked. “Can you do carpentry?” The man answered “no.”
“How about bricklaying?” Again, the man answered, “No.”
The employer asked, “Well, what about electrical work?”
“No. I don’t know anything about that either.”
Finally, the frustrated employer said, “Well, tell me then, what is handy about you?”
The man replied with a beaming smile on his face and excitement in his voice, “I live just around the corner.” [Story from King Duncan, Time for Action]

Sometimes the greatest thing that we can do to help God in God’s work to bless and serve the world is to live just around the corner. To be available when God calls.

So, I want to ask you one simple question today.

And as I ask you this question, I invite you to be open enough to allow this question to rest on your heart in ways that you may never have let something do before in your faith life. I think it’s the same question that Jesus is asking us today. Ready? OK – here it is…here’s the question.

Are you available?Image result for are you available

I believe that is the question Jesus is asking the chief priests and the elders of the people in today’s gospel reading. I believe that is the question Jesus is asking the money changers in the Temple as he overturns their tables just a day earlier. A day earlier or about a dozen verses of scripture earlier in Bible time. I believe that is the question Jesus is trying to illustrate in his parable about the father and 2 sons. And, most importantly, I believe that is the question Jesus is asking you and me today.

Are you available? Well, are you? Are you available?

Douglas Hare, in his commentary on today’s gospel reading, reminds us of our tendency to behave as the chief priest and elders did. “As religious leaders,” Hare writes, “they claim to be faithfully obedient to God, but they are blind to the fact that authentic obedience includes responding in faith to the new things God is doing.” (Interpretation series, Matthew, p. 247) The point Hare is trying to make is not only important to religious leaders – in Jesus day or in 2017. His point is for every human being who claims to be a follower of Jesus.

And that point, for followers of Jesus, is that responding with authentic obedience in faith to the new things God is doing is not something reserved for super holy pastors or priests or bishops or other professional church people. Responding with authentic obedience in faith to the new things God is doing is something that all children of God are invited to participate in each and every day.

Are you available?

Are you available to the new things God is doing? Image result for what's absent is awareness

Are you available to the new people and places and situations God is sending you into each day?

Are you available to new opportunities to share the love of the savior of the world with others in unlimited ways?

Or are you stuck in the past.

Please hear me when I say this today…no matter what you have done or what you think you have failed to do, God is doing new things in and through you. The future is wide open. Whatever hurt you may have experienced or thing you have done that you think has caused God to forget about you is…in the past.

no matter what you have done or what you think you have failed to do, God is doing new things in and through you. The future is wide open. Whatever hurt you may have experienced or thing you have done that you think has caused God to forget about you is…in the past.

Because of what God has done for us – and continues to do for us – through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to allow our past to determine or control our future. By the grace of God this is most certainly true.

Image result for the future is openBut in order for you and me to realize this – to finally realize that our past does not hold back our future, we need to be available to the new things God is doing.

Theologian Brennan Manning says that “Christianity used to be risky business; it is no longer.” I think statements like that are true because we are no longer available to the new things God is doing.

Instead, we make ourselves available by working too much and forgetting about our family and friends. We make ourselves available trying to satisfy our loneliness with more and more material possessions. We make ourselves available by making as much Image result for money godmoney as we possibly can because we have some strange belief that the almighty money god will make us happy again. We make ourselves available by giving up our lives to the addiction pressures of sex or alcohol or drugs.

The gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world – for us today, is found within the opportunity we have to be available. Available for the work God has for us to do.

Image result for new thing god is doingBrothers and sisters in Christ, are you available? I promise you, being available will involve risk on your part. And I also promise you that by being available you will be blessed and you will be a blessing to others in ways you can’t begin to imagine today. Make time every second of your day, with every breath that you take, to be available to the new things God is doing. Amen.