Pentecost 16 – Sunday, September 24, 2017

September 24, 2017  

Matthew 20:1-1

I was ordained September 27, 1986… that’s 31 years ago.

I am so grateful to be here today, in this place, serving you. I never really believed any of this could happen, let alone that it would.

My ordination service took place in the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, in Rockford, IL. I was baptized in that church. I was confirmed and took my first communion there. I was a member of Good Shepherd all my life, up until I received my first Call to be associate pastor down in Westby.

Last January I was invited to return to Rockford, to return to Good Shepherd to preach in celebration of the congregation’s 75th anniversary. As I wrote in a recent edition of the Messenger, my sermon had three points, each point based on something my parents taught me about what it means to be a follower of Christ.

We have adopted those three points as our theme for Stewardship this year: Go the Church! Give to Church! Be the Church!

Go the Church!

My parents taught me how important it is that we gather with a fellowship of believers. Really, the community that develops in congregations is vital to having a healthy life. Strength comes from being with others who accept you, who love you, who stand by you in the name of Jesus Christ, as servants. My parents still attend Good Shepherd Lutheran. My twin sister is a member there, along with her husband, daughter, and grandson. Whenever I return I feel like I’m at home. I see my high school Sunday School teacher, I see folks I sang in Youth Choir with, I get a hug from the mother of my first college roommate.

It was never a question in my parents’ household, we were going to church. Sundays. Wednesday nights. Thursday nights. Friday night. I remember as a child snuggling into my mother’s fur coat during a cold Lenten evening service. I remember biking across town to go to bible school. There was not a time I did not want to go to church… Because I could see, I could feel the love that was there for me. The same love is here for you. Whether this is your first time worshipping here, or your thousandth.

Give to Church!

I was taught to give generously. Give time. Give talent. Give money. My mother has written a check to her church every Sunday, sitting at her kitchen table, for as long as I can remember. Last January when I told that story at her church, she started to giggle. In the middle of my sermon. I later found out she wrote a check that morning, but forgot to bring it with her. The check was still sitting on the kitchen table.

 My family was active in church. I’ve said this in a sermon before. At one point in my home congregation’s life my father was president of the congregation, my mother was president of the Ladies Aid, and I was president of the youth group. Now my sister is a member of church council at the same church… give to church. Give time, Give talent. We need you and your expertise. Even if you aren’t an expert at anything, we need you here.

Be the Church!

In all that you say and do, know God lives. God speaks. God acts in and through you. God’s Work; Our Hands. So we are called to love one another.

Being the Church goes beyond us being here together. When we are the Church we are constantly examining who we are, what we do, what we say, asking if this is what a beloved Child of God would be, would do, would say.

Which is where our stewardship theme falls into today’s gospel message.

None of us would like it if we were working somewhere and we arrived at work on time, were guaranteed a certain amount of pay for a certain amount of time worked—and then we saw other people come to work late, really late, hardly put anytime into working, yet they get paid the same amount as you or me. It would be infuriating.

But the story is not really about people going to work and getting paid. The story is about God’s love for us.

God loves us all as much as God can. It does matter how much we Go to Church or Give to Church, or even how much we are Being the Church. God loves us as much as God possibly can. You can be like me, raised in the Church and devoted to it. Or you could be someone who walked into church for the first time today. God loves us equally. Which is to say ultimately—God’s love cannot be surpassed in power or might or thoroughness.

Our God is a generous God.

What we do in response to God’s generous love is to Go to Church. What we do in response to God’s generous love is to Give to Church. What we do in response to God’s generous love is to Be the Church.

We do these out of gratitude, not merit.

To Go, to Be, To Give—these are commitments made because, and only because, God so generously and gracefully loves us.

We welcome Ruby Eleanor into the Lord’s family today. As we do, we make promises to her. Parents and sponsors, you promise to raise her as a member of the Lord’s family, bringing her to church, teaching her about the faith we all share.

In support of you, we as a congregation make commitments. To help you teach Ruby. To love her and guide her. This is a family of faith. In Ruby’s name, and in the name of every person gathered here today we celebrate God’s love for every person. Always God will love her. Always God will love each of us.

Amen.