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 September 17, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Time after Pentecost 15A Lectionary 24
First Lesson: Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: [1-7] 8-13
Second Lesson: Romans 14:1-12
Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35
There are many potential stewardship dimensions and directions this week in the readings. I think I would frame it though actually with Paul’s letter to the Romans.
In this week’s passage Paul reminds us of our relationship with God, our relationship as Children of God, and the hope and promise of life and abundant life with God. Paul writes, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we did, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:7-9, NRSV).
When we keep this in mind, our life and our identity as stewards follows. For we are not our own, but “we are the Lord’s.” This reminds us again that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. This matters, and it reorients us in our daily lives whether we are feeling content and living abundantly, or whether we are feeling anxious, and the effects of scarcity.
The psalmist reminds us of all that God has done and continues to do (Psalm 103:1-7), so that “we do not forget God’s benefits” (Psalm 103:2, NRSV). Perhaps the most important one is the promise of forgiveness, and that God “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10, NRSV). That’s certainly not the way society and the earthly world and economy seem to work. It’s also reminiscent of the forgiveness that Joseph shows his brothers in the reading from Genesis this week (Genesis 50:15-21).
This forgiveness seems to be the focus of the gospel passage this week. As Jesus responds to a question about how often we are to forgive from Peter by saying, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22, NRSV). This leads, as it often does with Jesus into a story. This week’s story is about a forgiving king, and an unforgiving servant who was first forgiven by the king. There are all sorts of stewardship questions one could derive from this. These might include:
- What does forgiveness look like for us today in our society and economy?
- What does debt forgiveness look like?
- How do we manage and pay our debts? (Especially student loan debt in today’s context?)
I am sure you could think of others.
In putting all of this week’s passages together into a cohesive stewardship thought, I would return to Romans. Part of this life we have, as we are God’s is that we are called to forgive and to be bearers of God’s love and mercy in the world, as God has shown and promised us.
Last week, in the preceding verses to this gospel passage we heard, “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). What we do matters. Perhaps not so much for us, but definitely for the sake of our neighbor whom God has called us to be in relationship with, to forgive, to love, to serve, and to serve alongside. (Something critical to keep in mind given the hurricanes that travel over the waters, the earthquakes that shake the ground, and the wildfires that are burning nearly half of the United States right now.) This is what stewardship in action looks like, but it starts with a reminder that we are God’s.
We move from creation last week, to a reminder of God’s promises in the awful story of the “Binding of Isaac” this week. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but to have a God who would lead someone to be willing to sacrifice their own child could be argued to be divine child abuse, so I am not going to hide that sentiment. That being said, we do know the rest of the story.
Sarah and Abraham were recipients of God’s promised gift of a child, new life (Genesis 21:1). But as we are reminded of that, then we jump into the story in the following chapter, Genesis 22. On their journey up the mount, Isaac asks his father about the need for a lamb, to which Abraham in his wisdom, hope, or trust in God’s abundance says, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8, NRSV).
The stewardship nugget that I am most drawn to though this week comes in the final verse of the focus passage. After we are reminded of God’s promises and our response to them, we are reminded of the ram who would serve as the sacrifice. And at the place where the ram was found, “Abraham called that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided'” (Genesis 22:14, NRSV).
Be careful with this stewardship sentiment, because it could be a slippery slope towards prosperity gospel, or alternatively to a theology where what we do doesn’t matter, and we should just sit on our hands and let God work. That loses sight of the God we see earlier in Genesis, especially in Genesis 2, where we are called to be co-creators with God. I would push to emphasize that this week, we celebrate and remember that God is God, and God does provide. What follows then is the question, how do we respond to God’s gifts and promises? What is our response?
These questions take on all the more meaning when we remember with John the Baptist who says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NRSV). Thanks be to God. Now what does our thanks and praise lead to in our daily life?
Wherever you feel called to preach, may God be with you as you share words of hope, promise, and challenge this week.
Image Credit: Forgiveness