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:
Before looking ahead to Sunday, a quick thought about Ash Wednesday this week. Ash Wednesday’s appointed gospel (as is the case every year in the RCL) is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. This is a stewardship message. As you make the connection between Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, a connection no doubt about God’s love, remember that giving alms and fasting are spiritual practices, and also faith and stewardship ones too. As we begin Lent this week remembering our human frailty and sin, let us commit ourselves to growing deeper as stewards of God’s love and mysteries.
In looking ahead to the First Sunday in Lent, as much as you might be tempted to preach on Jesus being driven into the wilderness and being tempted, let me offer you a reason to not do that this year. Mark’s version of this story is really only two verses long. It doesn’t have a lot of detail. In fact for this week, it includes Jesus’ baptism and God’s declaration that, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11, NRSV). It also includes news of John’s arrest, and Jesus’ declaration at the start of his ministry, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, NRSV).
These are important things in the gospel this week which are all worthy of being preached on. But to start Lent, I would encourage you to take a deeper look at the Old Testament reading this week. In this story from Genesis 9, God makes a covenant with Noah. And as the covenant is recalled, it might well be a good time to remember the promises that God makes to us and for us.
In starting our Lenten journey to and through the cross, we remember God’s work, hope, and promises- a promise of life, and a hope to be in relationship with us, as well as a hope that life goes well for us. In thinking about stewardship and Lent, perhaps it would be a good season to dig deeper into thinking about how we live into and because of these promises?
In Genesis, we remember God’s declaration that,
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:9-11, NRSV)
In the midst of winter for many, a winter of snowstorms, cold, ice, and rain for some- we are reminded of the sign of the rainbow which God says will be a sign of promise and relationship.
“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:13-17, NRSV)
This covenant is a promise from God for all of God’s people. It’s a promise that affirms relationship with God’s children and all of creation. It also points to God’s hope and promise of abundant life, and together with the psalmist this week, points to a promise of redemption, and salvation. As the psalmist says, “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:5, NRSV).
In beginning this Lenten journey, reflecting on our God of salvation, our God of hope and deliverance from the storms, and our God who comes near to us and continues to show great love for us, just might make for a good stewardship sermon- especially as we remember God’s work and promises, and reflect on how we respond to it and live into it.
Wherever you might be led this week, may God’s love and hope be with you.
Before looking ahead to next Sunday, a quick word about Ash Wednesday. As weird as it might be that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday occur on the same day this year, there might be some balm in though we recognize that we are dust and to dust we shall return, we know that our Good Shepherd lays down his life for us and offers life abundant. That seems to me what might be at the heart of the appointed passage for Ash Wednesday, John 10:1-18. In beginning Lent, perhaps it might be worth wrestling a bit with what abundant life might really mean.
Now turning our attention to this coming Sunday. We read the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus. What a hopeful story of resurrection to begin our Lenten journey. But in this journey, we know it is one of challenge, at times hardship, sadness, rejection, and despair. In this week’s story, Jesus weeps, feeling sadness just as we do. Jesus asks, “‘Where have you laid him?” They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?'” (John 11:34-37, NRSV)
Before this scene though, we read one of the “I Am” statements. Jesus declares, “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” (John 11:25-26, NRSV). This declaration is a promise, and it’s the promise of new life and hope, the promise of Easter, and the one that makes the journey of contemplation and reorientation of Lent possible.
In the midst of grief and despair, like that of Lazarus’ sisters for their brother, Jesus does what God in Christ always does- he brings a message of hope and life. But wait, there’s more. Jesus then does something even more remarkable, he shows for all to see that he is indeed the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
The story ends of course on the happy side this week. Jesus, “cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go'” (John 11:43-44, NRSV).
This work of new life, of resurrection, and change is God’s work. But as we begin this Lenten journey, I am wondering, how do we acknowledge this, and how do we live our lives changed knowing this? How might we be changed (and resurrected) anew today like Lazarus? Any of these questions might make for some good stewardship thought in wrestling with and sharing God’s hope and promises for all.
Wherever you may be led this week, may God’s love, hope, and promise of resurrection be made real to you and through you.
Image Credit: “rainbows… oh, the joy!”