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 August 20, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Time after Pentecost 11A Lectionary 20
First Lesson: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Second Lesson: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Gospel of Matthew 15: [10-20] 21-28
Some weeks the lectionary seems more prophetic and timely than could be possible. I am aware, for example, that some pastors were ridiculed for preaching after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. They were told that they were preaching politically. The reality, they were preaching from the lectionary, on the Beatitudes.
I start here this week, because in this week’s lessons it seems impossible to miss the over arching theme of justice, and opening ourselves up to others who are ostracized, ridiculed, and marginalized. Given the events of Charlottesville, where the sins and evil of white supremacy and racism were given words and faces this past weekend, I don’t see how you could preach without this context and reality in mind. So therefore, this week I suggest if thinking about stewardship, to think about justice and how we work for it, and steward that which is entrusted to us in our work for justice and peace in all the earth.
The prophet Isaiah doesn’t seem to leave any wiggle room. Chapter 56 begins,
“Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” – Isaiah 56:1, NRSV.
If that isn’t clear enough, verses 6-8, provide even more clarity. We hear about “foreigners” joining themselves to the Lord, and “the outcasts of Israel,” whom God will gather. It’s hard not to think of on-going refugee crises, and national policies and proposals to restrict immigration and refugee resettlement. It’s hard not to think of the faces of those who gathered to stand in solidarity against the hate of white nationalists spouting and standing for their evil and racist views of supremacy. It’s hard not to think of the faces of people who would be kept out by the creation of a wall, or the families being torn apart by policies of our own country.
Any of these messages might be unpopular in your context, so choose them wisely. But know, that God always shows up on the side of the oppressed, the outcast, and the marginalized. This week is no exception. Perhaps the Romans passage convicts and calls us to this hard but holy work, as we are reminded that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29, NRSV).
I have saved the gospel for last this week. This week there is an option to include the preface of Matthew 15:10-20, a discussion about “Things that Defile,” before the main story for this week about “The Canaanite Woman’s Faith,” in Matthew 15:21-28. I would encourage including the optional preface this week. I am not always a fan of lengthening readings, but hear me out.
As we work for justice and peace, we need to remember that what we say (and don’t say) matters. This is also true for those who speak and share messages that are antithetical to the gospel, such as hate and supremacy. Jesus says that, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15:11, NRSV).
For me, this takes on new and timely meaning this week as I am confronted by images of white men like myself spreading evil openly and transparently in my own country. It takes on new meaning as I see people attempting to justify these perspectives on social media. And then I am reminded that evil perspectives and hate like this, is something that most people believe is taught and modeled. Maybe you could make a connection then, with verse 19, “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19, NRSV).
Then we move to the heart of the passage, about the Canaanite Woman, and Jesus’ first attempt to keep his ministry small and limited to the people of Israel. Even Jesus had to have his heart broadened, and perhaps this was a day where Jesus’ humanity was first more prevalent than his divinity?
The Canaanite woman calls to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon” (Matthew 15:22, NRSV). This woman does what any loving parent would do. She goes to the end of the earth to find a solution. She goes to this Jesus whom she has heard about, and has faith that God works through. And never the less, she persists even when Jesus plays difficult to reason with.
When Jesus is derogatory and mean towards her, she doesn’t argue. I kind of wish she did, because on this day, I want to punch Jesus. How could you hold back the love of God and healing of God? Jesus, what kind of Son of God are you? But then I remember, that Jesus was both human and divine. And maybe because of this, either Jesus needed to learn too about the transcendent nature of God’s love, or this meeting provided a perfect opportunity to show others that really his message was not for just one people whom looked like him, but for all creation?
When Jesus is mean and basically calls the woman a dog, the woman responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27, NRSV). The woman is wise. She chooses to not make this about herself, but about care for her daughter. She wants healing. She wants justice, and she is going to use everything she has at her disposal, everything she has been entrusted with, to work to make that happen. That is precisely what a steward does, and it is what she does today by pressing Jesus.
This is a woman who has no doubt been oppressed and ridiculed. Today, she demands that room be made for her voice and needs, and outsider’s perspective. And God in Christ relents, and ultimately meets her.
Jesus says, in what took way too long in my opinion, “Women, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15:28, NRSV). Her daughter was healed instantly, and we presume the woman thanks God and is on her way.
Today as I hear this, I am confronted by my privilege. I am a white male in a country, where other white men claim that they need to march for their power. It’s ridiculous. What we need to do is make room for women, for people of all ethnicities, of all faiths, sexual orientations, and identities of all kinds and forms. So, as a steward, today I feel called to use this vehicle as a way to help you also think about your opportunities and contexts, and how you can be a bearer of God’s message of love, peace, justice, and reconciliation.
I am sure this sounds like more law than gospel this week. So, here’s the good news, I believe. Just like last week, in the boat, God in Christ is with us and for us. As the storms rage, God is here. God has come near, and even when we feel that God isn’t listening to us, as in the case of the woman in today’s story, God is. God has already beat evil and death at its own game on the cross. With God, we too, can overcome this manifestation of evil, as together we work and hope for the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God and the growth of the Beloved Community.
This Sunday marks the second of a 4-week series on the sacraments in the Narrative Lectionary, and the second week on baptism, before two weeks on communion. I would point to last week’s thoughts for how to frame baptism in relation to stewardship. From there, I think I would focus on Romans 6.
Among the famous words from this passage, include this:
“Do you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:3-4, NRSV.
What might this newness of life look like? In baptism we are washed and made new. What does this newness as a child of God mean for our identities and callings as disciples and stewards? What does this mean for our freedom we find in Christ?
Any one of these questions could be a great starting place for preaching this week. In my longer thoughts on the revised common lectionary for this week (above), I spend a great deal of time thinking about stewardship and justice. How might the baptismal waters that we are washed in be a part of God’s justice? How might they be a starting place in our walks of faith for justice and peace?
Wherever you feel called to preach this week, may God’s grace, peace, and love guide you and be with you.
Image Credit: The Canaanite Woman