As our bishop of the Nebraska Synod, Brian Maas, recently commented at our annual Synod Assembly last weekend in Kearney, “The Nebraska Synod is really a congregation of congregations” meaning the synod, and not the office or staff members themselves, is best understood as a gathering of all those people—you, me, and others together in our congregations—who are cleansed, claimed, called, and sent out to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through our many and various vocations in word and action. Therefore, to refer to some foreign and invasive “synod” with fear, angst, or disgust, is really misplaced, misleading, and further confusing for others. Rather, “walking together”—as the roots (syn and hodos) of the greek word are loosely translated—we nearly 250 ELCA congregations across Nebraska are the synod, journeying forward as a body of many members in following after Jesus Christ.
This being said, I want to illuminate for you some of the many ministries we as a synod altogether support with our ongoing Mission Share dollars. Each week as the offering is taken up during worship, a portion of those undesignated dollars received goes toward what our congregation freely decides to give towards the work of the greater synod. With this money, we support over a dozen “serving arms” with which we as the synod reach out, care for, and serve those throughout our communities. These serving arms range from education ministries such as our local ELCA university (Midland) and two nearby ELCA seminaries (Wartburg & LSTC), to ministries meeting the needs of families, the elderly, and refugees such as Immanuel, Blue Valley Lutheran Homes, and Lutheran Family Services, to the support of communities such as Oaks Indian Center or Mission Field Nebraska. The whole list of our synod’s serving arms, with brief summaries—not including the many worldwide ministries we are involved in supporting through our churchwide partnerships—can be found online at the Nebraska Synod’s website: http://nebraskasynod.org/ministries/organizations/servingarms.html. Over 21% of our synod’s annual budget goes to support these local and nearby ministries—this means 1/5 of each dollar we contribute for this purpose is directed specifically for the care and tending to those in our local communities here in state borders. Does this attention by the synod, to the least, the lost, and the last in our very midst really sound all that evil? Nope, far from it.
You and I in this congregation, though we may not see it firsthand, through our stewardship and faithful offerings are reaching out with others all around the state to be God’s hands for others—Christ’s arms serving across towns and counties, along country roads and highways, past rivers and rolling hills, to help with the ongoing work of the gospel in this place. When you look into the face of another person—stranger or friend—here in Nebraska, chances are likely that your offering has either helped to support them or someone they know and love in life-giving ways that perhaps otherwise would not have happened. If we stop, look at, and think about the various serving arms we participate in as the Nebraska Synod, it’s no exaggeration to say that you are the reason for the warm meal on the table tonight for that hungry person; you assured a safe place for that refugee family who has fled thousands of miles to arrive here in search of peace and freedom; you are the support for that student who feels called by God to serve the church as an ordained minister. You are so many things for so many people whom you may never know, all because of our shared ministries as the Nebraska Synod. Instead of demonizing some office full of people in Omaha whom we don’t know personally or scapegoating “the synod” for something that happened decades ago by someone entirely different, what would it look like if you and I made an extra effort to become educated in what all we do as the Nebraska Synod, contribute an additional dollar or two toward our “serving arms,” and even went and witnessed firsthand these ministries at work in our communities? Pray daily for the ongoing work being done in and through our serving arms. Consider how we as a congregation might make special gifts toward them in affirmation of their faithfulness. At the very least, be aware within yourself about who we are as the synod altogether and what we are doing in this place we call home.