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:
In many congregational contexts, this weekend represents the start of the program ministry year, coinciding with the usual work or school calendar. It might be called, “Rally Sunday.” Additionally, in many ELCA congregations, this Sunday congregations will observe and participate in “God’s Work, Our Hands Day.” With this in mind, preaching on stewardship might involve setting the tone for the fall and year ahead, as well as reorienting a congregation towards their larger community and how they are in relationship with it.
A good starting place might be in Paul’s letter to the Romans this week, where Paul adds more details into what our relationship with our neighbor is and should be, and perhaps even helps explain the concept of ‘neighbor love’ itself. Paul recounts Jesus’ summation of the law, especially quoting the golden rule concept prevalent throughout scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9, NRSV). This ethic can and does guide our stewardship.
In thinking about the other passages this week, I think I would pair Romans with the gospel passage for a stewardship message. This week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew talks about community, our relationship with one another, and how we confess, correct, and draw attention to each other’s sins. This is an important part of our identity as the Body of Christ, and it also reflects our stewardship with how we engage with one another.
What we do (or don’t do) matters for the sake of God’s work, love, and reconciliation. We don’t do the work of salvation, nor can we earn that free gift. But our response to God’s gifts and promises shapes the way we live, and the way we spread the Good News. So when we hear this week that,
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:18, NRSV.
There is responsibility in this. What we do, does in fact matter, and have consequences.
When we gather as one Body, we do so with God in Christ. As Jesus says to us this week, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, NRSV). Keeping this in mind, might make for a good reorientation to the ministry year ahead, and a good starting place for our focus on relationships with our neighbors near and far, and our stewardship of all that God entrusts to us.
As I wrote above, in many congregational contexts this Sunday is “Rally Sunday,” and for a number of ELCA contexts, it is also, “God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday.” That has rich stewardship implications of its own.
When we pair this idea with the start of year 4 of the Narrative Lectionary, we begin again at the start of the Bible. (Please do spend time with the commentary from my favorite Old Testament professor of all time, Rev. Dr. Terence Fretheim.) The immediate theme that comes to my mind is our stewardship of creation.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:27-28, NRSV.
God entrusts God’s creation to us. God calls us to be a part of this, as God entrusts “dominion” to us. How you define “dominion” matters for how we are in relationship with creation. When I think about this passage, and then the other creation story in Genesis 2, I like to think about how in Genesis 2, God calls on Adam to be a part of the naming process of creatures and creation, making him, in essence, a “co-creator” with God.
I also like to think about the act of creation and God’s relationship with it, which the psalmist explains well in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2, NRSV).
When pairing this week’s focus passage from Genesis with the appointed gospel verse from the beginning of John (year 4 of the narrative cycle focus around the fourth gospel, the Gospel of John), I am drawn especially to the first and last verse of the passage:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:1-3, 5, NRSV.
In this time of storms, hurricanes, fears of war, and all the -isms of society, maybe reminding that this is God’s creation, and yes what we do matters, but God was present in creation and is still very much present now would be a powerful sermon, especially as we start a new programmatic ministry year and you set the tone for ministry and stewardship in your context.
Thinking about that, as you travel through John this year, here’s a stewardship theme for you, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” What do you think?
Wherever your preparation leads you this week, may God’s blessings, peace, and love be with you and be shared through you.