Happy Monday! 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:
Last week we heard the gospel story of Jesus calling fishermen to be disciples and fish for people. This week we hear a story about the man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28). This is a text which if preached on, must be approached with care.
In Mark’s telling of this story, I partially find it humorous that here in the first chapter we have heard from John the Baptist and God’s self as a voice from heaven, and now the third being to testify about who this God in Christ is, is an unclean spirit of all things. It says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mar 1:24, NRSV). Taking that first question, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” might make for an interesting sermon. What does Jesus have to do with us?
In terms of stewardship this week, the appointed psalm, Psalm 111, is probably where I feel drawn. It begins, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1, NRSV). Giving praise and thanks is something we do individually, but also communally as the gathered people of God, “in the congregation.”
It might be worth pondering, in part as a way to help lift up stewardship as a year-round part of our identity as Children of God and disciples a few questions about gratitude and praise. Perhaps you might ponder with the faithful: How do we give thanks? Why do we give thanks? What does our praise look like? Feel like? Sound like? Anyone of these questions might make for some good stewardship reflection in preaching and leading.
There is also an opportunity with this psalm to either connect it to the unclean spirit’s question out of the gospel, or to think more broadly about God’s promises for us. For example, the psalmist declares, “He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant” (Psalm 111:5, NRSV). This is a promise of life, and a promise of relationship.
The psalmist also highlights other works of God, writing, “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to this people, he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name” (Psalm 111:7-9, NRSV). These are all signs, promises, and examples of God’s work, for us. In response, how do we live? How do we share? How do we serve? How do we give thanks and praise?
If these examples aren’t calling to you in your context, maybe the famous verse 10 might, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10, NRSV). What might wisdom mean today for us as God’s children? How might we steward this?
Whatever questions you wrestle with, and whatever direction the Holy Spirit guides you, may God’s love, peace, and promise be made known to you and through you.
This week’s story is all about a conversation Jesus has with Nicodemus about being born anew, and God’s love. Given that it is in John’s gospel, it may not be the simplest story to wrap your head around. My biggest push though, is to resist the urge to just skip and focus on the popular Christian culture verse of John 3:16.
In terms of stewardship this week, I would first try to get a handle on the story and context. Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a leader of the Jewish community. He has questions for Jesus, recognizing Jesus’ gifts, relationship or closeness to God, and leadership. His questions don’t seem to be of malice or judgment, but rather out of a thirst to grow closer to God and to understand what God might be up to through Jesus. So, I think we should not be harsh to Nicodemus for his challenge in understanding Jesus. If the disciples couldn’t even figure it out until after the resurrection, then you really can’t blame someone for not quite understanding yet.
We read that, Nicodemus asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4, NRSV)
In terms of science, and as a new parent to be, I can relate with Nicodemus’ reasoning here. Jesus doesn’t make a lot of sense on the one hand. But, as the Narrative Lectionary this week connects with Psalm 139, perhaps it too would be helpful for you to connect that perhaps this is pointing to God’s work and the mystery of God. But also, to the fact that God knows us more deeply and fully than anyone knows us. As the psalmist highlights, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well” (Psalm 139:13-14, NRSV).
Recognizing this, perhaps Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ questions makes a little more sense? Jesus says that, “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5, NRSV). This is what life as a baptized Child of God looks like. It connects well with John’s message, and also hearkens back to Jesus’ own baptism story that we read a few weeks ago.
From Nicodemus’ questions, Jesus shares a deeper and more broad look about God’s love. Yes, this includes the famous verse John 3:16. But it also includes verse 17, which I think might be even more important. Jesus says, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). This is pure gift and promise.
In terms of stewardship, I really feel drawn to the implications of John 3:17. For me it raises questions of how do we live into this promise and gift, and live in response to it, born anew in the Spirit? (For some more thoughts on this, it might be helpful to see how I have tried to preach on this in the past.)
Additionally, not as a form of litmus test or works righteousness, but if wondering about what God might be up to in the world around us, verses 20-21, could be helpful to briefly ponder as well in terms of stewardship. The gospel writer of John quotes or says through Jesus, “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:20-21, NRSV).
How might what we are a part of point to Christ’s light? How might God be working through us? Among us? To us? For us? All of these might be timely Epiphany season questions to ponder.
Whatever questions come to you, may God’s love and promise be made real for you, and be shared through you.