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:
Last week we heard the story of God’s miracles and abundance with the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which follows directly in Matthew 14 after the death of John the Baptist. We pick up this week right where we left off, with the story of Jesus walking on the water, which is perhaps not the most obvious gospel passage for a stewardship sermon ever.
Among the wonderful things in this story, beginning with Jesus going by himself to pray, sending the disciples out on the boat, a display of God’s power over the sea, and a conversation about doubt and trust, Jesus says some of his famous words of greeting and assurance, “do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
From a stewardship perspective, this is where I think I might be drawn this week. The gospel story offers plenty of opportunity to think about God’s power, trust, and doubt. It also offers the first time that a human has called Jesus “Son of God” (Matthew 14:33) [for more on this see: Lutheran Study Bible, page 1631]. But even with all of this, I think these words, “do not be afraid,” are a reminder of God’s presence with us.
So many things can be happening in every person’s life. For some, it’s already back to school time. For others, there is still a month (or more) left of summer. Some are dealing with epic wildfires and heat, like in the Pacific Northwest. Others are just hoping for rain for the crops to have a good harvest this year. Many are worried or anxious about leaders, government, policies, near and far. In the midst of all of this, God in Christ again says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
“Take heart.” To take heart we take a moment to take stock of where we are at, of what’s going on. We also take a step back, a deep breath, and in that breath we collect ourselves and hopefully remember the peace, hope, and promises we know in God in Christ. This fills Peter with enough confidence, that he offers himself to be commanded to come to Jesus, by walking out himself on top of the water.
“It is I.” You could think a lot about the different names God has been called or known as today, but I think this suffices to say- the one who created and entrusts us, is also the one who loves us and is with us, just as God promises. These promises and presence give our life meaning. They provide comfort and peace. But they also provide an invitation to live a life of interesting adventure (perhaps even in Peter’s case walking on water), but also a life of deep meaning, challenges, and the good, bad, and ugly of living the life of the cross as a disciple.
“Do not be afraid.” Four words that God, angels, and Jesus himself say many times throughout scripture, which usually accompany an important moment. Sometimes this is a moment of change in the story. Other times it’s a moment of deep faith formation and discovery. Still other times its a moment where God is calling us to take notice.
We all fall into times of doubt like Peter. If we are honest, I think we could all easily identify as Peter in this story, or one of the other disciples perhaps who would never even have made such an offer to walk on water in the first place. Doubt creeps in when we think about finances, assets, and questions. Doubt creeps in when we let scarcity dictate what we can do as people, communities, and congregations. It’s a natural thing.
What can we do about this?
“When (Jesus and Matthew) got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God'” (Matthew 14:32-33, NRSV).
When scarcity runs rampant; when stress about money or finances causes us to not talk about it; the fear, gives the money and assets power. Instead of being seen as tools, they are seen as something more. This is a product of scarcity.
This precisely when we need to remember that it’s not about us. It’s about God. The wind ceases because God has power over it. Jesus walks on water, because God has power over it. These things, these miracles, are all possible because of God.
Feeding the hungry, serving our neighbor, seeing the needs of the strangers all around us, these are things we can do, but things we are also entrusted with the abilities and capacity to do because of God. They are things we are called and created to do. But we don’t do them alone. We do them together as God’s people, but most importantly, we do them together with the one who says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” We do them together, as God’s hands and feet in this world. We do not do them apart from God.
When we think it’s about us, that’s exactly when we run into problems, just like Peter when he noticed the wind while on the water. (Thankfully, when that happened, God in Christ was right there to reach out his hands.)
Perhaps that’s a stewardship sermon after all. What do you think?
This Sunday marks the beginning of a 4-week series on the sacraments in the Narrative Lectionary. Two weeks on baptism, then two weeks on communion. This four-week set concludes the summer, and the next yearly cycle will then begin on Sunday September 10th.
If your congregation is using this cycle, I am excited for you and the possibilities. Given this year is the 500th commemoration of the beginning of the Reformation, this week’s psalm, Psalm 46, provides an awesome opportunity to tie into the Reformation theme. As you probably know, it was this psalm which inspired Martin Luther to write “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and this is also the psalm most often heard read on Reformation Day.
In terms of baptism, to live a life as a disciple in affirming one’s baptism, is also I would argue to live as a steward. The reading from Acts 2 makes this clear.
“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41-42, NRSV).
There is great imagery of the Kingdom of God in this passage, but also especially in verse 42, four key marks of discipleship. These four marks help show what it means to live as a disciple, but also as one in community with the Body of Christ. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to connect them to the five marks of discipleship or baptismal promises found in Lutheran liturgy:
- to live among God’s faithful people,
- to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
- to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
- to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
- and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
This is our response to a life of baptismal living. It’s our response to God’s work and promises.
We hear this in both readings for today. From Acts 2:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39, NRSV).
And also from Psalm 46, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (Ps 46:4). This river is a sign of God’s presence and promises, a sign and perhaps source of God’s abundance and blessing [for more see Lutheran Study Bible, page 898].
These are poured out upon us in the baptismal waters, and we are reminded of this each day when we shower, wash our hands, do the dishes, and come into worship putting our fingers in the water, making a sign of the cross, and affirming and giving thanks for baptism.
From these waters, and in our life as disciples, we also go out and live as stewards. We live as stewards of God’s love and mysteries, like those we know, celebrate, and experience in the sacraments of baptism and communion.
Whatever direction you feel led to preach this week, may God’s love, presence, peace, and promise guide you and be with you in your ministry! -TS
- Lutheran Study Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009). Study notes on Psalms by Rolf A. Jacobson (as referenced above on page 898), and on Matthew by Duane A. Priebe (as referenced above on page 1631).
- The discipleship marks or baptismal promises can be found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 236.
Image Credit: Jesus walks on water.