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:
Advent feels like it’s just flying by this year. (And since it’s nearly a full week shorter than usual, that’s probably a big part of it.) This week we hear about John the Baptist, and have more of a focus on messages of preparation, and reminders of what God will do and promises to do.
This week’s gospel reading comes right from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. In typical Mark fashion, it’s direct and straight to the point. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, NRSV). This prefaces the proclamation then of John the Baptist. In terms of stewardship I might point to how the beginning verse makes clear what the gospel and the Good News is. From this message, flows our life and identity as stewards.
Psalm 85 and Isaiah 40 might be richer in their stewardship related content though. With the psalmist we declare, “Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin” (Psalm 85:1-2, NRSV). This is an opportunity to point to what God has done, to be grateful for it, and to tell some stories.
It is also an opportunity to reorient and prepare for that which God will do. “The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase” (Psalm 85:12, NRSV). Taken out of context this verse might be a potential cherry picked verse for a prosperity gospel. However, when put in light of this being not about us, but rather a declaration that what God does, yields increases in God’s economy, it can be a very helpful point of stewardship reflection. The distinction must be drawn between God and us. God gives all good gifts.
Where I really feel led though this week I think is the reading from Isaiah. It begins with the words of hope and peace, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1, NRSV). It is also the passage that would be generations later quoted by John the Baptist, and is referenced and quoted in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark that is in the lectionary this week. “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3, NRSV).
The stage has been set. These Advent themes of preparation, hope, and comfort, are clear. But what I love most about this passage is the beautiful description of what God will do (which Handel may have used extensively in the composing and orchestration of The Messiah):
- “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low” (Isaiah 40:4, NRSV).
- “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5, NRSV).
- “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isaiah 40:11, NRSV).
This time of Advent, a season of preparation is also a time of reminder that it is God’s work that is done for us and for all creation.
How do we make room and prepare? How do we settle and find time to be still in the midst of the busyness of life that is especially common during December? This week it seems would be a good one to ponder stewardship in its fullest sense- the stewardship of life. Taking up these, or any related questions might just make for a wonderful stewardship infused message.
Wherever the Spirit moves you this week, may you find the time to prepare and be present with God, and may God’s love and presence be made know through you too.
This Advent in the Narrative Lectionary seems to be full of the great stories from the prophets of God’s saving acts. Last week it was the three in the fiery furnace. This week we have a story about new life and resurrection, with a favorite story of mine from growing up and going to Sunday School, “Ezekiel: Valley of Dry Bones.”
The meat of the story for me starts with a question. Perhaps God has a sense of humor in the way it’s phrased, but asks anyway, “Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3, NRSV). That’s not a normal kind of question it would seem. It’s a question that opens the door to an act of resurrection- either literally out of the grave, or figuratively, out of a life in exile.
It’s a story really all about God’s acts and promises for us. God says, “I will call cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:5, NRSV). This declaration of life is a reminder that abundant life comes from God, a gift we have all been entrusted with.
This declaration is met by a promise it seems of resurrection, as God declares, “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people” (Ezekiel 37:13, NRSV).
This is a promise that we know most fully through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Fittingly, the gospel verse paired with this story this week comes from John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Any of these promises or acts are great pieces from a stewardship perspective to point to as God’s work, and then wonder what our response is to it? But, perhaps the best verse for this comes just a verse later. God says, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:14, NRSV). God gives life, and life abundant. This is a promise, and it is at the heart of our individual relationships with God and one another.
It begs the questions for me: How has God given you life? And, how do you live into that life abundant found only through God’s gifts and love? Perhaps these questions might be helpful for you to help your congregation ponder this week in Advent.
Wherever this story and the questions it raises leads you this week, may God’s love be known to you and through you.