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:
The prophet Isaiah offers a call that might just be a good place to start this week. In my study bible, Isaiah 55 is titled, “An Invitation to Abundant Life.” Within this, Isaiah shares God’s call and invitation, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (Isaiah 55:3). This is a wonderful pairing and place to start with this week’s famous gospel story.
From Jesus’ parables on seeds, we move this week to Jesus returning to shore from a boat, and to Matthew’s telling of the “Feeding the Five Thousand.” I’m a bit envious of those of you preaching this week friends and colleagues. This is a beautiful text of God’s abundance in action.
In Matthew’s version, it is said that Jesus has gone off to have some alone time. But the crowds follow and find him, and Jesus has compassion. As Matthew writes, “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Matt 14:14). This is a good reminder of the depth God will go for us, even when God is tired.
[Side note- It’s also a terrible verse if you are trying to talk about self-care and boundaries with your congregations though. If this is something you are struggling with, I think I would recommend pointing to the fact that even Jesus needed some alone time to recharge to be able to be fully present in his ministry.]
If I were preaching, I think I would go for a focus though on what God’s abundance might look like and mean. Where our human tendency is to dwell in scarcity, fear, and not having enough, God says, “that’s more than enough.”
“Then (Jesus) ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:19-21, NRSV)
From five loaves and two fish, five thousand people are fed. And what’s more, there are even twelve baskets of left-overs and doggy bags to be sent home for others afterward.
There are so many social justice and societal directions that you could go this week. So to focus on just one, how about today we think briefly about hunger.
It’s telling that we already have enough food in the world that is produced annually to feed everyone. The question then is, why do so many in our world struggle with hunger and famine? Why do we struggle to get the food to those who need it? The quick, way too simplistic one-sentence answer: Our human created systems and infrastructure are either non-existent, inefficient, or even corrupt. Obviously, this is a most simplistic answer, and one that doesn’t begin to point to all of the great organizations, agencies, churches, and ministries doing important work to alleviate hunger and to feed those near and far who are hungry.
Perhaps this week is a week to think about God’s abundance in your midst, and how you are called to steward and share like God. Just as God invites us around the table, God’s meal is for all, and we take and share it.
Yesterday I had the fun of walking in our local county fair parade with my congregation, whom my wife serves as pastor. As we walked, everyone in our group of nearly 25 people handed out candy left and right. But I noticed something. Some people tossed a candy here and there. Others (including my wife Allison) seemed to send handfuls of candy to people, and needed to often refill their candy bucket. Perhaps that’s actually what God’s abundance looks like?
In the weeks previous we have heard about God sowing seeds extravagantly, even on not so ideal ground. God’s generosity and love is like that. It’s poured out abundantly for us, for all. In the feeding of the 5,000, we see another example of God’s love being poured out for many.
Where have you seen God’s abundance? How do you wrestle with ideas and realities of scarcity and abundance in your midst? Where do you find hope in God’s abundance, like those with the five loaves and two fish, who saw Jesus feed the whole crowd with their small offering of food to share? These questions just might make for a deep and meaningful sermon this week.
Sunday August 6, 2017: Narrative Lectionary
Narrative Theme for the Day: “In the present, God continues to make provision for us in the still-contested arena of human life.” (according to Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore).
Focus Passage: Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel Verse: Matthew 10:28-31
This is the fourth and final week of this four week journey through Ephesians. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians isn’t necessarily the easiest text to work with for stewardship. But this week I think I would think about peace, prayer, preparation, and telling the story of God at work for all.
Paul writes, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). It is important to share the story of God, but it also important to take the time to prepare, and be ready. It’s important to find the time to be in peace, because it is kind of hard to share a message of peace when you yourself are not at peace, don’t you think?
I am especially drawn to verse 18, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication…” This is not about us. This is not possible just through us. It’s God’s work, that we pray that God would use us, guide us, and work through and with us to do some of God’s work to share love, peace, and hope.
We have hope and trust in the God who knows us better than ourselves. God we hear in this week’s gospel verse from Matthew, even knows the number of hairs on our head. As Jesus says, “And even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:30-31).
When this gospel passage was part of the revised common lectionary back in June, I used the idea of “hairs on the head,” as a jumping off point for a children’s sermon. If you have a children’s time in worship, maybe inviting children young at heart to come up and think about how many hairs are on their head could be a nice way to remember just how deeply God knows us and loves us, one and all.
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
Image Credit: Feeding the 5000 from Ethiopia