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:
The covenants keep coming in the lectionary this Lenten season. This week, we read the story of God’s covenant with Abraham, and how God says that his descendants will be great in number (Genesis 17:2). Like last week, we hear that God wants to be in relationship with us, and the lengths that God goes to promise that God is with us and for us, and will be so. From a stewardship perspective, this is a great area to focus on, as we think about God’s promises for us, and our response to them and for them.
God says, “I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous” (Genesis 17:2, NRSV). And from here, God goes into further detail outlining this covenant, and the changes in identity that will come with this relationship.
“This is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:4-7, NRSV).
It doesn’t get much clearer about God’s promises than that. But, there’s another stewardship option that you might consider pondering for your preaching this week. You might decide to think about legacy. Abraham leads quite the legacy of faith, as it follows from this covenant, and it’s described with some detail in this week’s second lesson, Romans 4:13-25.
If intrigued about this possibility, I would encourage you to wonder about what might our legacy of faith and stewardship be? What will be the stories of faith that are shared and told going forward and into the years ahead? Thinking about these or related questions might help move a congregation from thinking solely about its building and property, to thinking more broadly about sharing the gospel, raising up leaders, and doing ministry in the larger context.
If feeling pulled by the gospel passage this week, there could be some stewardship ideas to ponder there as well. We hear the familiar and famous rebuke from Jesus to Peter this week saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33, NRSV). What human things do we set our minds on, effectively missing the point or call of God’s divine work in our midst?
You could also think about the relationship of following the cross with a life of discipleship and stewardship. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35, NRSV). For a lack of a better simplification, this may well be a reminder of “why we do what we do,” or at least of “what we probably should do.”
For added wrestling, you could try and ponder the famous question about life and profit, and think about if there might be any insights for stewardship here: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mark 8:36-37, NRSV)
In whatever direction you feel pulled, may God’s love and promise be made known to you and through you.
This week we read the familiar story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. It’s an act of service or diakonia that may well be at the roots of word and service ministry. It is also a story that is often read on Maundy Thursday. This story offers so many opportunities to ponder ministry and service in your context. For example, “Servants are not greater than their master,” is just one of Jesus’ many signs of love and examples of what love looks like. What love or ministry in action do you see in your midst? What might you be called to join, take on, or give up? Why?
Digging into the story a bit, Jesus says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15, NRSV). This is not to make Jesus into a mere example, but Jesus here as servant is also exemplifying what life as a servant and steward might look like. It’s one where you need to be willing to get down on your knees, to get dirty cleaning another, to meet your neighbor wherever they might be at. It’s one where having your hands open and outstretched is a must, meeting your neighbor and reaching out to them.
Now in terms of the conundrum perhaps, Jesus, as is often the case, makes this even richer if not more complex. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:16-17, NRSV). I would assume this makes the case for no one being of more importance over another, but because there’s no clear delineation or follow-up where “masters are not greater than the servants,” for example, this text could be heard as a justification for stations in life, and superiority of some over another. It’s certainly not meant that way, but depending on your congregation and context, you might want to be aware of this when choosing your words or preaching on this passage. (It would seem more accurate to view this as an example of God or Jesus being greater than those serving in their name, if needing to unpack this. But again, I hesitate to say that’s the point here.)
At the heart of this passage though is the importance and call for all to serve their neighbor, not just some people. This matters, not for salvation, but for the sake of our neighbor whom God calls us into relationship with.
When we heed this call, community is created. When we don’t, we certainly need to confess and ask God to, as the psalmist says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12, NRSV). There is joy in serving, just as there is joy in stewarding. What might this look like in your community?
In whatever ways you feel called and led to preach this week, may God’s love, and God’s call and invitation to know and serve the neighbor be made clear to you and through you.