Preaching on Stewardship- December 17, 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 December 17, 2017: Revised Common Lectionary- Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)
First Lesson: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 126
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel of John 1:6-8, 19-28

For this third Sunday of Advent, I really feel drawn to the Magnificat as it relates to stewardship. So, I would suggest using Luke 1:46b-55 instead of Psalm 126, if it in your setting it might make more sense than the John reading this week given it’s message is very similar to last week’s reading from Mark, you could use it as the gospel passage.

The Magnificat beautifully describes what God has done and promises to do. It is a portrait of God’s work and the work of the Kingdom, as well as the relationships and lineage that is part of that work. 

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48, NRSV).

How does God’s work for us, move us? Clearly Mary was moved, and with good reason. But surely God is at work in ways for us and through us, too? (Maybe not quite as drastic as immaculate conception, but still very much at work.)

One artist’s interpretation of what the Magnificat might have been like.

Mary also proclaims the famous words, “for the Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49, NRSV); and “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53, NRSV). Mary is speaking of the great changes that come with God. The reversals, and work of God uplifting the lowly. This is all God’s work for us.

It can also be challenging for us to hear this, as many of us might be the wealthy or privileged. If that’s the case, where can our senses be opened and we be made mindful of our neighbors and strangers around us, in need? How can we be led in some small (or big) way to be part of God’s work of filling the hungry, and uplifting the lowly?

Taking a step back, I wonder if pondering the question, “Have you seen the work of the Magnificat in action in your daily life?” might be part of a great Advent stewardship sermon?

If Mary’s words aren’t quite doing it around stewardship, Isaiah or Paul might help. In Isaiah we hear that some of the work of God, much like Mary has made clear and quotes from the prophets herself, is “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1, NRSV). Where have you seen this kind of faith and stewardship in action?

Isaiah also quotes God, saying, “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them” (Isaiah 61:8, NRSV). These are more reminders of God’s promises and hopes, as well as of God’s covenant with God’s people.

For good measure, Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NRSV). These are all marks of discipleship and stewardship. Perhaps highlighting them the week before Christmas and how they are a part of our response to God’s gifts might be helpful in your midst.

Wherever you feel led this week, may God be with you, granting you peace, and with you providing words of hope and promise this week.

Sunday December 17, 2017: Narrative Lectionary
Narrative Theme for the Day: Word Accomplishes God’s Purpose (Year 4, Week 15)
Focus Passages: Isaiah 55:1-13
Gospel Verse: John 4:13-14

In this time of preparation and likely Christmas shopping, how can we avoid the pitfalls of consumerism? This might seem like an odd question to start some stewardship reflections with, but given this week’s focus passage, it seems relevant.

From Isaiah’s words we hear the question, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2, NRSV) This verse of course is about God’s Word, but it could also be relevant given this time of year of hyper spending and shopping.

I’m not saying that you should preach an anti-Christmas shopping sermon. Please don’t hear me say that. But do hear me encouraging you to think about how it might not hurt to add a little perspective to our lives and identities as consumers. Why do we do what we do? If we keep this in mind, our spending might be more focused, and also keep  things in line with what really matters for each of us.

God in Isaiah this week points to and invites each person to abundant life. We hear the invitation, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1, NRSV). You could highlight this as an example of God’s abundance, or you could also point to this and name the realities of hunger and needs in our midst. How can we provide for those are in need of living water? Who are in need of bread and food for their family’s table? Maybe this is a call for us to each step up and help show that God’s abundance is indeed a reality for those in our communities who might be struggling?

God’s invitation to abundant life continues. “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live” (Isaiah 55:3, NRSV). God wants life and life abundant for all of God’s children. It’s pretty clear here that the hope and point is “so that you may live.” And to pile on, we also hear, “let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7, NRSV). God forgives and pardons without ceasing to the repentant. That’s another sign and part of what abundant life might be in God.

As part of this, it should not be underestimated that God’s word does do this, and that it matters. We hear, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11, NRSV). This is God’s work, done through God’s word. Think of the sacraments for example. What gives the water, bread, and wine power? God’s Word and presence. (Connecting to the gospel verse from John 4:13-14 about living water could be extra beneficial here.)

Returning to the overall premise about shopping and putting things in perspective, if as we hear these words from Isaiah this week allows us to wonder about God’s Word and God’s work, maybe we might also dwell more deeply in God’s promises so that we shall “go out in joy and be led back in peace (Isaiah 55:12, NRSV)?”

There’s lots of stewardship possibilities in here this week. Wherever you feel led in this week of Advent, may God with us, Emmanuel, not only be with you but give you peace and hope, and help you share that peace and hope with others.

Image Credit: Magnificat from Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice (December 2014)

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