Preaching on Stewardship- October 8, 2017

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 October 8, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Time after Pentecost 18A Lectionary 27
First Lesson: Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-15
Second Lesson: Philippians 3:4b-14
Gospel of Matthew 21:33-46

The gospel of Matthew this week recounts Jesus’ “Parable of the Wicked Tenants.”  Towards the end of the story, it becomes clear that this is a story Jesus tells about himself and the chief priests and the Pharisees. Think of the authorities perhaps as the wicked tenants,  and Jesus as the son (or heir) of the vineyard owner who is rejected and killed.

parable of wicked tenants
One artist’s interpretation of the “Parable of the Wicked Tenants.”

It’s not a happy story. But I believe it’s also a stewardship story. We’re entrusted with all that we have- our gifts, strengths, passions, etc. We’re also entrusted with the responsibility to steward all that we have, much like the tenants and servants sent to care for and collect the produce of the vineyard. When we reject this, when we don’t do as we are called to do, there will be consequences. This isn’t a works righteousness thing. Rather, this is about our response to God’s goodness. If we aren’t moved, if we don’t share love, or gather the seeds that were sown, people will go hungry.

In this story, the fruits of the Kingdom of God won’t be gathered as they ought. And perhaps this is what scares me the most about this passage. It’s where Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom” (Matthew 21:43, NRSV). God entrusts us with gifts, opportunities, and our neighbors, and uses us. God doesn’t need to do this, but God wants to be in relationship with us, and to have us be co-creators and workers as part of God’s mission in the world. When we lose sight of this, God can and does use others. Even though this is God’s work, it’s our stewardship of what God has entrusted to us, and it matters for the sake of the kingdom.

If preaching on stewardship this week, perhaps that’s a good direction to go.

As I write this on Monday morning (October 2nd), I do so just processing immediately after the most deadly mass-gun violence in modern United States history, late last night in Las Vegas. This violence was evil, and it was terrorism, whether or not people in politics or the media call it that or not. I grieve for all the families and friends who have lost loved ones. I pray for those who are in hospitals, injured and being cared for. I pray for those who have had to respond to such tragedy. I pray with the psalmist this week for God’s help, “Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted” (Psalm 80:14-15, NRSV).

But at the same time, I wonder, if perhaps we are like the wicked tenants? This may not be popular, but at this point I have written about gun violence too often on this blog in the past. When will enough be enough? When will we be awakened from our hardness of hearts, to make common sense changes to our gun laws in this country? When will we prioritize providing mental health care without the stigma? The wicked tenants continued to reject those sent to gather the harvest. We continue to reject the data, and all those who are victims of senseless gun violence crying out for a change. When will we wake up from our lethargy, and be courageous?

I ponder these questions after reading the passage from Isaiah about “The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard.” I feel convicted reading, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Isaiah 5:7, NRSV)

I have no words, but a feeling of profound sadness, numbness, and am tired of asking and repeating the same questions. When will we find the point of critical mass to agree to common sense gun regulations? When will we find the point of critical mass to make mental health care a priority? When will we admit our brokenness as a society with our fascination of weapons, and the racism that blinds us to the reality that the vast majority of these incidents are perpetuated by white males, just like me?

Perhaps this might be an important direction to ponder from the pulpit this week too?

At the same time, there is still hope to cling to, for we know the hope, grace, and love of God through Christ Jesus. As Paul writes, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3:8-9, NRSV).

Wherever you feel called to preach this week, may God guide you, use you, and through you, uplift and challenge us all as God’s children and stewards.

Sunday October 8, 2017: Narrative Lectionary
Narrative Theme for the Day: God Provides Manna  (Year 4, Week 5)
Focus Passages: Exodus 16:1-18
Gospel Verse: John 6:51

If ever there was an opportunity to preach on the dichotomy of abundance and scarcity in stewardship, this is it! The people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, are at a point of their journey where they would rather return to Egypt as captives. They feel like they are being led to their death. They are living in scarcity.

[A side note- I do not mean to discount the concern of hunger in the world. Hunger is a very real challenge we have the resources to respond to. As I have written about previously, check out this look for thoughts about preaching on hunger.]

This story provides a good opportunity to reflect on God’s promises, and acts of abundance. As God says, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days” (Exodus 16:4-5, NRSV).

When that may not be good enough, God offers more. God says, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God'” (Exodus 16:12, NRSV).

Gathering manna… one imagination of what this might have looked like.

Now when God does provide as God has promised, the people are confused. They look to Moses and Aaron for guidance. What are they to make of this strange manna covering the ground? They are told that, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:15, NRSV).

As you might imagine, this could have set-off a free-for-all. Those who were hungry, would gather as much as they could with a mindset of scarcity- the idea that there is a limited amount of resources, and if I have more of something you must have less of it. Thankfully, as this is God’s work, our human conception of scarcity was turned (as it often is) on its head, and allowed for an opportunity for God’s abundance to be known and made manifest.

When the people measured what had been gathered, “they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed” (Exodus 16:18, NRSV). They gathered as much as each of them needed! Not too much. Not too little. This is what God’s abundance looks like. This is what “enough,” means.

What might these stewardship insights point to in your context? What abundance vs. scarcity conversations have you found yourself in recently in daily life? In your congregation or faith community?

For good measure, the narrative lectionary also ties in with the following gospel verse this week: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51, NRSV). This is about God’s gifts and provisions for us. Thanks be to God for that, and thanks be to God for reminding us that it’s not only about us, and that we are all in this together as a great community of God’s people- to care for each other, to love and serve each other, and to share all that we have as God has given God’s very self for us.

How ever you bring this message this week, may God be with you.

Image Credit: Parable of the Wicked Tenants and Manna gathering

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