Preaching on Stewardship- July 30, 2017

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Every Monday I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings by the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary are as follows:

Sunday July 30, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Time after Pentecost 8A Lectionary 17
First Lesson: 1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Second Lesson: Romans 8:26-39
Gospel of Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

As the weeks of summer roll on, so does our journey through the Gospel of Matthew in the time after Pentecost, featuring parable upon parable. Today’s parables about the kingdom of heaven have me thinking about Nebraska.

Now, as much as I like it in Nebraska, I am not ready to call it heaven… yet. Part of the hesitancy rests in the 100 degree temperatures recently with heat indexes of 115 or more. But that said, I am thinking about Nebraska because of the images of the mustard seed. In eastern Nebraska there are two primary crops, corn and soy beans. Both crops happen to be within a minute or two’s walk from where we live.

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Stop and admire the growing corn, and also stop and wrestle a bit with the mustard seed today.

As the stop sign suggests, I think today is a good day to stop and really spend time with the gospel of Matthew. This week we hear the famous illustration of the mustard seed:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” ~ Matthew 13:31-33, NRSV.

Then attached to that is the one-verse, and potentially rich stewardship parable from Matthew 13:44:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Added on for extra illustration is a parable about a merchant in search of fine pearls (Matt 13:45), and then one about casting a net, separating the good and bad, righteous and evil (Matt 13:47-52). Whatever your context is, surely at least one of these illustrations applies well. For a coastal community, perhaps its the fine pearls or fishing and casting of nets. For those inland, the field and crop illustrations seem appropriate.

This week we have a chance to think about what the kingdom of heaven might be. That’s an important message, and one as timely as ever. As a society we are wrestling with how do we care for each other. Whose responsibility is it to care for the neighbor and stranger? The answer I would argue is obvious- all of our’s. But, I also know this is not a viewpoint that is shared entirely widely. Today might be an appropriate time to think about what this might mean in the context of Jesus’ parables, and the ideas and hopes for the building up of the kingdom of heaven.

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A field of soy beans (with corn in the distance). Seeds and crops need to be nurtured and cared for

That’s an important stewardship message really, because it gets to the question of importance and values in how we steward that which has been entrusted to our care. Do we care for the seed as it is planted? Do we support it and nourish it? Upon finding great worth, do we sell, return, or offer all that has been given to us, out of gratitude and to help in a small way continue God’s work through and for us, and for all?

These past few weeks we have also journeyed through Romans, and this week the passage includes one of the most famous of Paul’s writings,

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-39

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That’s the gospel. It’s a pure gift. From that understanding, everything else follows. From this and with this understanding, flows the kingdom of heaven. It is a kingdom where barriers, walls, and divisions are no more. It is a kingdom where people are built up and cared for. It is a community of love, peace, and hope. What might this look like for your community? What might this mean for your stewardship?

Side note, Marty Haugen has a beautiful hymn setting of this text from Romans 8, and if you are unfamiliar with it, I encourage you to look it up, or listen to it here. ELCA Lutherans you can find it as hymn 622 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. 

Sunday July 30, 2017: Narrative Lectionary
Narrative Theme for the Day: “The plan of God has implications not just for past estrangement but present and future growing up into Christ.” (according to Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore).
Focus Passage: Ephesians 4:1-16
Gospel Verse: John 15:1-4

Continuing our four week journey through Ephesians, today we jump to chapter 4. In this beautiful passage we hear about how we are called and created to grow up in Christ.

You might recognize these verses from their use in an ordination, consecration, commissioning, or installation type service. Especially in Ephesians 4:1-7, and 4:11-13, the concept of vocation and calling are lifted up. Because of this, I think if you could include some tidbits on how we each have various vocations and callings, and through them we serve God and the needs of the world. Lifting this up, would be a wonderful sermon and have great insights on holistic stewardship.

Towards the end of today’s focus passage, Paul reminds that even though we each have these unique pieces about us, our vocations and callings (and perhaps our strengths, passions, stories, etc.), we are all a part of the Body of Christ, and in relationship with one another (especially from Ephesians 4:15). What might this mean for us as we steward ourselves and our community? If you pair it with the gospel verses from John 15:1-4 about how Jesus is the “true vine,” and the reminder that a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, and neither can we unless we live and abide with God, then perhaps there is an even richer sense of what it means to be in relationship with God and one another.

Whatever direction you feel led to preach this week, may God’s love, presence, and grace guide you and be with you in your ministry! -TS

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