Proper 24B Sermon Notes (2018)

SERMON NOTES — October 21, 2018
Stewardship Emphasis – Week 4 of 4 (Proper 24B)

As we wrap up our month-long stewardship emphasis, offering our financial commitments to this ministry, I’d like to focus this morning on the fifth of our Unifying Principles at LCS:

  • We commit to God’s life-changing mission.

Turning in a “2019 Estimate of Giving Card” is a meaningful way of committing to God’s life-changing mission through the work of this congregation. But the essential questions remain:

  • What exactly is God’s life-changing mission that we are called to as disciples of Jesus? And why is it life-changing?

One of my closest friends at seminary was Mark Brocker, now a pastor in Beaverton, OR. He worked two big influences in my life: a summer at church camp in Coeur d’Alene, ID, and adopting orphaned children from West Africa. Mark is a scholarly type (on the team who published Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works in English) who finally published his own book two years ago: Coming Home to Earth, expressing his love of God’s creation and call to eco-justice.

He begins the book:

As a young teenager in rural Wisconsin I lay awake one night worrying whether I believed in Jesus enough to get to heaven. It was unusual for me not to fall asleep right away. During the day I tended to be preoccupied with school and sports. But at least on this one night, concern for my personal salvation kept me awake longer than usual. My Norwegian Lutheran forbears were not strong proponents of rapture theology. I do not remember hearing talk about being “left behind.” Nonetheless, we tended to be afflicted with “getting to heaven anxiety,” a milder version of “left behind” thinking, reflecting an excessive focus on individual salvation and a loss of concern for the well-being of Earth. We had prematurely written off our Earth home. . . . Too often Christians have talked as if Earth is a place we are passing through on our way to a better place. It is common to hear at funerals and memorial services that at least the one who has died is now in a better place. People who are passing through Earth are less likely to be motivated to care for it.

God’s life-changing mission that many of us grew up with: Getting as many souls as possible to heaven for eternal life after they die. Corollary: we are just passing through our earthly home.

A major element of a New Reformation is to revisit the basic view of God’s life-changing mission — and it is based very much on Scripture! God’s most basic mission in the Bible is Creation! God is first and foremost Creator of the Universe. God didn’t create the world to simply chuck it in the wastebasket because of sin. When God sends Jesus to save us from our sins, God does that for the larger purpose of saving the whole Creation.

  • Check out Romans 8:18-26 where St. Paul speaks of salvation as “hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
  • John’s entire Gospel is framed in terms of God creating in love:
    • John 1: “In the beginning was the Word…. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
    • Jesus performs six signs of the coming New Creation: water into wine, healings that further creation, raising Lazarus.
    • As Good Friday (the sixth day of the week) comes to a close, the Sabbath begins with the seventh sign: Jesus dies and says, “It is accomplished.” He has fulfilled his mission.
    • John 20:1 — “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” Jesus meets Mary in the garden on the first day of New Creation. She mistakes him for the gardener — the right mistake to make, because Jesus is calling us back to our original purpose and mission, gardeners and care-takers of God’s Creation.
  • The Book of Revelation: the New Jerusalem descends to earth. The mission is not going to heaven but heaven coming to earth to fulfill creation. We are not passing through Earth on the way to our heavenly home. We pass through heaven on the its way to renew the earth.

Suggestion for LCS’s fifth Unifying Principle:

  • We commit to God’s life-changing mission of self-sacrificially serving God’s Creation.

In short, Stewardship as the primary human vocation. A brief word about why “self-sacrificially.” If we think of sin as knocking us off our true vocation of stewardship, how do we follow Jesus into renewing that vocation? Following Jesus means some form of taking up the cross, of turning sacrificial thinking and practice into self-sacrificial thinking and practice. Stewardship is a prime example. Genesis 1 tells us: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over . . . the earth.’” What does it mean to have dominion over the earth? See today’s Gospel Reading: Having dominion means being sent to serve. Read Brocker’s Coming Home to Earth, pp. 129-30:

God intended for all creatures, not just human beings, to be fruitful and multiply. All creatures have an impact on the created order. Other creatures have been content to make that impact within the limits God has given them. Many human beings have not been content to live within our God-given limits. “Dominion” has been interpreted as a license to dominate. The consequences for other humans, other creatures, and ourselves have been disastrous and threaten to become more devastating in a hurry. We need to give up this license to dominate.

In Mark 10:35-45 James and John come to Jesus with a request: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” This request comes from a spirit of domination, a desire to lord it over others. When the other ten disciples heard this request, they got miffed; they did not appreciate James and John trying to get one up on them. Jesus called them all together and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus contrasts two very different ways of life here. One is governed by a spirit of domination. The other is governed by a spirit of service. The power to lord it over others is alluring, as James and John’s request reflects. It is not easy to give up this power and the way of life commensurate with it. But that is precisely what we must sacrifice when we take up this new way of life and follow Jesus in serving others. Like Jesus, we are content to give our lives as a “ransom for many.” For us today the many includes all our kindred, both human and nonhuman. All things, whether on Earth or in heaven, were reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col 1:20). “If Jesus did not die for white-tailed deer, redheaded woodpeckers, blue whales, and green Belizean rain forests,” asserts Steven Bouma-Prediger, “then he did not die for you and me.” The term “ransom” suggests that a sacrificial way of life can be costly. It cost Jesus his life. But once again, the purpose of this way of life is that all may have life and have it abundantly.

Our current challenge and mission: the self-sacrifice needed to minimize climate change — that we may have life more abundantly!

Paul Nuechterlein
Lutheran Church of the Savior
Kalamazoo, MI

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