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 November 26, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Christ the King Sunday (Year A- Last Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 34)
First Lesson: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1:15-23
Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46, NRSV). The Gospel of our Lord. Praise to you O, Christ?
This will likely be the last verse of scripture read in your congregation for this church year. It’s a fitting end really given the readings we have had lately in the lectionary, and perhaps the feeling of the world around us at the moment. As we celebrate Christ the King, this is a good opportunity to remember the kind of king we worship, and the kingdom we are called to be a part of. Both, very different then what we see in earthly authority today.
This week’s gospel story makes it abundantly clear about what matters. It’s kind of a rehashing of the Beatitudes and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s so important, that in Matthew’s telling of the story of God in Christ, this story is the last one Jesus really tells before the events of the passion. I think it matters to the gospel writer and to Jesus, because this is what’s at the heart of who Christ is as King, Messiah, and Savior. God in Christ, given for you, is a free gift. It’s a gift we are called to share. It’s a gift we are entrusted with, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of our neighbor whom we are called to love and serve.
Have we shared with those in need?
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me'” (Matthew 25:34-36, NRSV).
Or, have we ignored them?
“‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me'” (Matthew 25:42-43, NRSV).
It is good to celebrate ministry in action, but also to confess how far we have to go, and to recommit ourselves to be followers of Christ bearing love and mercy, and serving all those in need. We can’t be complacent and sit back. How we engage and serve our neighbors and strangers, matters.
Perhaps this weekend- the weekend after Thanksgiving, the last weekend of a year’s journey through the Gospel of Matthew, and the week before we start a journey with Mark in the Advent of a new year- is a good day to reflect on what we have done together as God’s people. It might also be a great opportunity to think about and share some of what all we might have to look forward to, but also to point to the work God is calling us to as stewards- some work old, some work new. Reflective of God’s on-going presence in all of our lives and the world.
At the same time, we need to remember that it’s not all up to us. It’s God’s work to overcome death, after all. Thank goodness for this. God speaks in the reading from Ezekiel today, and proclaims some of what God will do:
- “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out” (Ezekiel 34:11, NRSV).
- “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered…” (Ezekiel 34:12, NRSV).
- “I will feed them…” (Ezekiel 34:14, NRSV).
- “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice” (Ezekiel 34:16, NRSV).
These are some of God’s promises. They are promises we know most clearly through God in Christ, whom we proclaim as king today. God’s very self engages in this work for all of creation, and God in Christ, in today’s gospel calls us to be a part of it- to embody it, to follow, to serve, to tell, and to share.
For all of this we give thanks with the psalmist. Psalm 95 is one of my favorite psalms, and has been used at the heart of the Morning Prayer (or “Matins”) liturgy. As we come to the end of one church year, perhaps closing with these words might be fitting, “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise” (Ps 95:1-2, NRSV).
May it be so. And may God’s love, promise, and presence, be with you and made known to you and through you this week and always.
God’s work of building up the kingdom is entrusted to us as we “seek the welfare of the city” where we are and have been sent, and we pray for our communities and contexts (Jeremiah 29:7, NRSV). This is in part how God’s peace, love, and mission breaks into the world.
On this day, perhaps a good stewardship sermon will reflect on how your faith community is engaged in the larger community around you. How do you embody God’s call, promise, and work, to “seek the welfare of the city” where you are at?
Alternatively, this passage also has the famous verse, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV). This is a passage and opportunity to point to hope in God’s promises, a good theme as we move into the time of Advent. It’s also a good theme when we look around and see what’s going on in the world, and the anxiety of it all perhaps.
Rev. Dr. Terry Fretheim talked about this passage back in class in seminary and said that perhaps thinking about the word, “thoughts” instead of “plans,” might make this a richer reading, as they come from the same Hebrew word. Either way, this is a reminder that God hopes life will go well for you, and that God is there with us. It’s part of the words of hope and promise that are found throughout the prophets, paired with words of God’s justice, righteousness, and deliverance.
If your congregation is also observing the liturgical day of Christ the King Sunday, it would be helpful to pair this week’s passage featuring God’s call for justice, but also God’s promises with the appointed verse of John 14:27.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27, NRSV).
That’s the gospel. That’s the good news, news we need to hear this week. God doesn’t give like the world gives, thank goodness for this stewardship insight. But most importantly, God gives us peace. This is what Christ the King is about.
God in Christ shows us how to love our neighbor and serve our neighbor, but also draws us close in relationship with God as God’s children. God has overcome the world’s worst, for us. That’s a story that needs to be told and retold. God is present, even in the worst. That’s a promise that needs to be told and retold. There is hope and we need not live lives in fear, for in God there is abundant life. Thanks be to God.