Preaching on Stewardship- June 25, 2017

Every Monday I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching this week based on the appointed readings by the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary. Here are some longer than usual stewardship nuggets for this coming weekend.

Sunday June 25, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Time after Pentecost 3A Lectionary 12
First Lesson: Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18
Second Lesson: Romans 6:1b-11
Gospel of Matthew 10:24-39

This week’s gospel text is all about the life of discipleship, and what it means to be a follower of the way. It basically picks up where we left off last week. Chapter 10 is all about sending and instructions for mission. For stewardship, it might be fun to tie it back into the potential last verse of last week’s reading, “You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:8).

What does it mean to give? What does it mean to serve? These are central questions for stewardship, but also our identity as disciples and Children of God. As a central understanding of who or what we are for stewardship, this could be a good week to drill down on the heart of discipleship.

This week’s gospel though could be a hard one to hear a week after Father’s Day, especially if you read again verses 35-37 (Matt 10:35-37). But as we acknowledge our world that we are in, the community and church that we serve, we know that Jesus’ very presence and message can and does create division, even if at its core is the calling to reconciliation and community (especially vivid in today’s epistle, in Romans 6:5).

In our walk of discipleship, we acknowledge the cross and the call to follow (Matt 10:38). We acknowledge our relationship as disciple with the teacher (Matt 10:24-25a). And we are confronted by the reality and juxtaposition of life and death in Christ (Matt 10:39).

There is a lot of richness in this gospel passage. But, I think the most depth for stewardship might rest in the Romans passage this week. I’m partly feeling led here as I am personally preaching this week, but also because I am remembering a friend, Pastor Chris Nelson who passed away yesterday in Minneapolis.

Pastor Chris Nelson sitting on the steps in worship at Bethlehem Lutheran in Minneapolis (courtesy of John Helberg on Facebook)

Pastor Chris was the Senior Pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran in Minneapolis. Thousands upon thousands of people (if not more) were touched and heard God’s promises because of Chris’ ministry. I got to know Chris because he was my Great Aunt Dorothea’s pastor, but also because he and I often found ourselves in similar conversations and gatherings because of Luther Seminary or ministry events in the Twin Cities. While in seminary, Chris came and talked about stewardship in the “Money and Mission of the Church Class” I took which was taught by Chick Lane. That was just the first big conversation I ever had with Chris.

Today, I am remembering in particular, an experience a couple of years ago sitting at a table with Pastor Chris and Pastor Kelly Chatman (from Redeemer Lutheran in North Minneapolis). I think it was an event sponsored by Gustavus Adolphus College. Anyway, Chris, Kelly, and I just had a wonderful conversation about building up leaders around vocation, and the imaginative possibilities in this new day and chapter of the church. (I didn’t quite realize at the time how cool of an opportunity it was to sit at a table with those two wise leaders, listening and sharing with me.) In those conversations, as I know Chris did with so many others, I felt inspired, encouraged, and challenged to be a part of God’s work.

At the end of the most recent posts on Chris’ CaringBridge journal, he cited Romans 14:7-8. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).

That’s the gospel. Those are the promises of God. It puts Matthew 10:39 in a good light. And from a stewardship sense, I think it serves well in concert with this week’s passage from Romans 6. Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). This is God’s promise to us, and for us.

How do we live? Why do we live? How do we give? Why do we give? They are all responses to this very promise. As Paul also writes, “The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:10-11).

We live to God. We are alive, and made alive through God in Christ. This is freedom. This is community. And this is the gospel, which is why we are here, why the church exists, and why we are called, gathered, and sent by, and with God the Holy Spirit.

Chris lived and died in Christ. May we be so humble, bold, and joyful to live and some day, die like Chris. A saint and a sinner. A child of God, who lived out his vocations fully for the sake of God and the sake of the neighbor. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the kind of stewardship sermon or preaching your context might need this week?

Sunday June 25, 2017: Narrative Lectionary
Narrative Theme for the Day: Psalm 23/Trust
Focus Passage: Psalm 23
Gospel Verse: John 10:1-4

This week, as we continue our journey through the Psalms, we turn to probably the most well known one, Psalm 23. I have preached on this earlier this year in fact. So perhaps there are some stewardship nuggets in that sermon worth revisiting?

I am not going to go the funeral route, since I pretty much already did that above in my reflection on the RCL passage on Romans, celebrating and remembering Chris Nelson.

Instead, perhaps a good stewardship sermon would think about how we trust in God, and how sometimes it may be easier to do so than others? I am always struck by the opening verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps 23:1). “I shall not want.” That’s a recognition of the deep abundance made possible with God.

I want to caution you though, this is not a passage seemingly supporting the prosperity gospel or works righteousness. “I shall not want,” is not dependent on what we do or don’t do. It’s not dependent upon us at all. It’s also not “if only I believe enough, I shall not want.” No. There is still poverty in this world. There are people who thirst for water in parched lands. There are people who go hungry, even though there is enough food produced in this world to feed everyone. Don’t let this be confused. Plenty of people “need,” these life essentials. Today’s passage is not a free pass around that.

But with God, our Shepherd, it is possible to live abundantly. It is possible to live simply, and contently, assuming our few life dependent needs (like water, food, shelter, etc.) are met. Psalm 23 could be an opportunity for you and your context to think about what “enough” really means. And that could be a rich stewardship sermon or reflection.

This has me thinking about this past weekend. We got hit with some very nasty storms in Nebraska this past Friday evening. As far as I know, no one died or was seriously injured around here though. That’s a miracle, looking at the damage and destruction.

fri tree
One of the many trees down from the storm, that the community quickly thereafter rallied around to cleanup.

On Friday night after the storms had passed, Allison and I were out visiting some members of the congregation and seeing if they were okay. Then for a few hours on Saturday, we were in neighboring Nickerson, which had more damage than our little village. So we grabbed some gloves and joined people from the community and those nearby who showed up to help clean up, remove fallen trees, and lift each other up. That was God in action.

People helping people, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers and becoming neighbors. When community like that happens, I believe I am seeing a glimpse of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. When community like that happens, the idea that “I shall not want,” takes on a new richness. 

The storm was a strong one on Friday evening. The green skies were a scary sight to behold, as were the 90+ mile hour winds and walls of water. Hopefully no one was out walking in that literal “darkest valley” (Ps 23:4), but God was surely present. And God’s mercy (Ps 23:6) perhaps showed up through the hands people shared to help move trees and clean up. Never have I seen a community rally so quickly after a storm. I am happy and grateful to be a part of it. And I am thankful to God who has called each of us to be a part of it.

To all of you, wherever you feel led, and how ever you feel called to preach this week, may God guide you and be with you! -TS

Image Credits: Romans 6:5

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