Second Sunday after Epiphany - Mission Sunday
January 19th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
A Proposal for Using Our Gifts – Romans 12:6 and John 2
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. This morning, on our last Mission Sunday for 2013, the lectionary has provided us with an amazingly appropriate verse, as we once again focus our attention on the Mission of God through His Church. My lack of administrative skills is the primary cause of the late date of this Mission Sunday, but the Lord in His overabundant mercy and provision has overcome this weakness, bringing about the happy coincidence of this occasion and this verse: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.
As we focus on the Mission of God’s Church and our roles within it, could we have a more appropriate passage? We have been blessed with many gifts. The economic boom has gifted many of us with good jobs and better salaries, for some of us, more financial resources than we ever imagined we would have. The Lord has also gifted us with new members, who have come here for the work. The cheerfulness that results from the good news of Jesus Christ has caused great generosity among you, the people of God in this place, resulting in budget surpluses for both our congregations. And God has long enabled us to see the white of the harvest fields, leading us to make a regular habit of looking for opportunities to care for neighbors near and far through service to body and soul, with material support and with the proclamation of Christ. God has through His Word and Sacrament been guiding us to take from the many gifts He has blessed us with, giving to support the growth of His Church. Like the wise steward, we understand our gifts are given to us to use, not just for ourselves, but also for the earthly and eternal benefit of our neighbors.
This morning St. John is specifically supporting a ministry that has nearby roots, but whose reach of service is global, the Orphan Grain Train, a human care and Gospel mission endeavor that helps thousands of people suffering from disasters, around our country and around the world, every year. Orphan Grain Train works also to deliver material goods, and the Word of Christ, coordinating with and supporting local missionaries in the areas they send aid.
At Trinity, the focus is closer to home this morning. With this Mission Sunday Trinity is supporting a fund to pay for Gospel outreach right here in our own communities, a Bakken Mission Fund, to help spread the Good News of Jesus to our increasingly numerous neighbors and friends, right here, in the oil patch. At both congregations, we have a clear focus on using our gifts, in support of the Gospel, in service to our neighbors, to the glory of God.
And, as I have been promising for some time in the newsletter, this morning I have the distinct privilege of delivering to you a proposal that the leaders of our congregations have been considering for some months now. For we have received a very particular gift, a gift that we, Lord willing, can put to good use to directly increase our outreach and evangelistic efforts right here in our communities.
What gift am I talking about? Well, the best gifts are always flesh and blood gifts, The best gifts are people. The very Best gift is of course our flesh and blood Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we have forgiveness, life and salvation. And about 18 months ago, our congregations received the gift of two souls, two sinners, living from the grace and forgiveness of Christ. This man, along with his wife, have a remarkable wealth of experience in mission work. If you have gotten to know him, you know that this man has a great deal of energy, even after 40+ years of service, energy and desire and skills to continue telling people about the flesh and blood Savior, Jesus Christ.
The gift we have received is Reverend Doctor Mark Nicolaus, along with his wife Jane, who moved to Sidney in the summer of 2012. They have already been used by God to bless our congregations and communities. Jane is teaching Sunday School, playing bells, serving in Altar Care, and working part time at West Side School in Sidney. Rev. Nicolaus has led services and preached when I have been gone, taught Catechism classes and Adult Sunday School, and added his voice to our singing. He also shares excitement in the Gospel with everyone around him. Of course, at the present time Reverend Nicolaus is Pastor again, serving the vacancy at Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. The Lord uses each of His children in many different ways. We all have a role to play in God’s ongoing mission, but not the same role, and not the same gifts to use. God in His grace has given Mark Nicolaus a double portion of missionary zeal, tremendous boldness and comfort in speaking of the Lord and His Church, as well as 4 decades of experience in Word and Sacrament ministry. This morning, the leaders of our congregations and I are proposing that you use the gracious gift God has given us by bringing Reverend Nicolaus to us. We are asking you to consider calling Reverend Nicolaus as Assistant Pastor for Outreach of Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, to begin serving sometime after he completes his vacancy pastor work at Concordia, Williston.
The proposal is for him to serve part time, with at least 80% of his hours dedicated specifically to taking God’s Law and Gospel to the people of our communities. His focus, should you choose to call him and should he accept the call, will be to increase our Christian outreach to our neighbors, both long time and brand new neighbors, to anyone who is not currently connected to a Christian congregation where the truth of God’s mercy and grace are proclaimed and delivered. That is to say, he would particularly focus on finding ways to bring the Good News of God’s blood-bought free salvation to sinners who are not yet resting in the peace of our Savior’s resurrection victory.
There are a number of factors and resources which make calling Reverend Nicolaus a particularly valuable opportunity, chief among these being his long experience in Church planting and outreach. After the service you will receive a document containing the particulars of the proposal, including the financial costs. We will take our time considering this idea, giving everyone a chance to ask questions, understand the details, pray over and consider this proposal. This proposal to call Rev. Nicolaus as Assistant Pastor for Outreach will, just like when you have called pastors in the past, require the approval of both Trinity and St. John. It is a serious and holy undertaking that you are asked to consider.
We will have meetings and opportunities for everyone to be heard. We will not be making a decision concerning this proposal until at least March. I truly look forward to the mission focused conversation that God has placed before us.
In that conversation, God grant us the faith to pray like Mary, asking her Son Jesus to help out with the wine problem at the wedding at Cana. For Mary didn’t know what solution Jesus would offer to her prayer. She saw a need, knew the gift that was her Son Jesus, and boldly asked Him to do whatever He thought best. Jesus response was multifaceted, like a diamond, and brought both present and eternal joy to many. Jesus showed His concern for our earthly life, blessing the un-named bridal couple with the very best wine, making their special day better than they could have imagined. At the same time, Jesus revealed who He is, what He can do, and how He wants to bless people. And, seeing the work of Jesus, His disciples believed in Him, the most valuable gift of all, for faith in Jesus brings forgiveness, and eternal life, a joyous forever feasting at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb who has been slain, for the life of the whole world.
I do not claim to know the best way forward in mission for our congregations. My request of our leaders when I brought this idea to them was simply that we consider it prayerfully and seriously. This is also our request to you. We all see a thirsty, growing community, full of so many people who do not even know what they are truly thirsty for, so many people who don’t know how Jesus comes to freely distribute the sweet wine of salvation, the drink of forgiveness that they truly need. Perhaps as we discuss, study, pray and wrestle with this proposal, a different way forward will be revealed to us. I don’t know the best way forward, but I do know that Jesus desires to speak through us to every person in our communities. Let us pray to the Lord of the Harvest to show us just how we can best proclaim His Son to the mission fields all around us.
As we deliberate over this proposal, may the Lord grant us to know and take the right first step in our deliberations. We are, in considering this proposal, trying to pursue the way of a greater harvest. We are praying and working toward seeing more fruit of the Gospel. And we know from Jesus that in order to bear fruit, we need to stay connected to the Vine, that is, we need to stay connected to Him, to His Word, to His Meal, to be fed by the One who came to be the Savior of all. So as we move forward in the weeks ahead, stay close to Jesus, by gathering around His table, feasting on the Bread of Life, drinking forgiveness in His precious blood. Stay close to Jesus by abiding in His Word, on Sunday, and each day in between. For the Lord knows the plans He has for us, plans to bless us, and to bless the world around us, with eternal blessings from His Word, proclaimed through us.
Thanks be to God for His gracious gifts. God grant us to know them, rejoice in them, and put them to use, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.