Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It is Reformation weekend – a time when we celebrate the fact that the Lutheran Christian church is called to always be a reforming church.
It’s also Confirmation weekend – a time when 46 of our brothers and sisters in Christ affirm their baptism and make promises to each other and to God that they intend to continue to live out their life as followers of Jesus in all they say and do.
It’s also the first week of one of my favorite worship series of the year. Every year, in the fall, Good Shepherd sets aside several weeks of time to explore what it means to be a steward of God and how being a steward shapes the entirety of our life of faith.
I hope and pray that you are blessed by this year’s series. It’s called “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” This series will include special worship services over the next month, stewardship moments shared with some of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, an opportunity each week during worship to reflect upon our own stewardship and generosity, short weekly video bible studies that will be posted on our YouTube and Facebook pages, and an opportunity for all of us who call Good Shepherd our faith home to make a financial commitment to the mission and ministry God is blessing us with.
The scripture reading that will guide us throughout this worship series is the one we just heard from the Apostle Paul’s second letter – or possibly his third letter as some biblical scholars believe – to the church in Corinth.
Is this text about money? Yes.
Is that all it’s about? No. Because stewardship is not only about money. Generosity is far more than just money. Stewardship, or living our faith generously, is about far more than money or the church’s quest to get into our bank accounts. Thanks be to God for that truth.
The Macedonians are a generous people – generous to an extreme. Even though they have experienced great poverty and persecution, they are committed to the work of the church and generously and joyfully support what God is doing. Paul uses them as a way to encourage the Corinthians to be equally generous. After all, the Corinthians are far more affluent than the Macedonians ever hope to be.
Here’s the rub though. Paul is not trying to guilt the congregation in Corinth into giving like the Macedonians. He’s trying to help the congregation in Corinth see first-hand the gift of God’s grace that has empowered the Macedonians to give in the first place.
And to give abundantly, joyfully, generously – far beyond what anyone could have imagined. God’s grace – and God’s grace alone – invites them into a life of overflowing generosity.
Bishop NT Wright offers this thought in one of his many volumes on the Apostle Paul. “Grace is one of Paul’s ‘big’ words – so big, in fact, that we often fail to realize all the tasks he gets it to perform. Often when people talk about ‘grace’ in church circles they are referring simply to the undeserved love and power which God showers on people in bringing them to faith in the first place and enabling them to live and grow as Christians. That remains central and vital.” Bishop Wright states. He then goes on to say, “But Paul also uses the word in what seems to us (though probably not to him) a different way, as in this passage: to refer to what God wants to do not just in and for Christians but through them.
What counts is not whipping up human sympathy for a project, nor making people feel guilty that they have money which others need, nor yet encouraging them to gain social prestige by letting it be known that they have given generously. What counts,” Bishop Wright concludes, “is a work of grace in the hearts and lives of ordinary people. Paul has seen this spectacularly in Macedonia; now he declares that he wants to see it in Corinth as well.” [Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, pg. 86-87]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, what might grace like that look like in the hearts and lives of people who call Good Shepherd Lutheran Church their faith home?
Over the course of a year, tens of thousands of people gather at Good Shepherd for times of worship and praise. On average, more than 800 people gather for worship in this sanctuary every single week.
But our worship life is not only contained within this space. Our worship life also gathers us together with brothers and sisters in 170 congregations of the Western North Dakota Synod and 9,000 congregations across the United States that are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Our worship life also gathers us with our brothers and sisters of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana, El Salvador and in Lutheran congregations across Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Madagascar.
As God’s grace works through the hearts and lives of ordinary people like you and me at Good Shepherd in the next year, how might we grow generously in order to bring forth new mission opportunities and joy to worshiping communities we don’t even know exist today?
During the program year of September through May, seeds of faith are planted in about 700 young people through Church School, Little Angels, Confirmation, and Senior High School ministries. Ministries led not only by pastors and paid church staff, but by dozens of additional leaders who volunteer their time to walk alongside these young people in their faith journey.
As God’s grace works through the hearts and lives of ordinary people like you and me at Good Shepherd in the next year, how might we grow generously in order to bring even greater joy to additional opportunities for us to form faith together – from our very youngest to our very oldest members?
Earlier this year, we began participating in a ministry called Little Free Pantry. In just a few short months, the little, non-descript, wooden box on the north side of our property has offered thousands of items and hundreds of pounds of food to brothers and sisters in our community who are among the working poor living with food insecurity as a daily part of their reality.
As God’s grace works through the hearts and lives of ordinary people like you and me at Good Shepherd in the next year, how might we grow even more generously in order to bring even greater joy to brothers and sisters in our own community who are hungry, poor, feeling forgotten? Brothers and sisters who just need to know that someone cares about them, someone who can remind them with words and actions that God does love them unconditionally.
I’m filled with joy that we are together today. I’m filled with joy that God has called us to be a faith community together just like those in Corinth and Macedonia. Our worship series begins with today’s theme…giving God our day. We begin here because one of the central beliefs of our faith is that every day is a gift from God. Every day in our life of faith begins with God because it’s all God’s in the first place.
This week, let us give God each day that we are given. And let us do that with overflowing generosity toward our brothers and sisters. I pray God’s blessings to be upon you as we journey together over the next four weeks seeking to live with abundant joy and overflowing generosity. Amen.