Preaching on Stewardship- March 11, 2018

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:

Sunday March 11, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday in Lent
First Lesson: Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2:1-10
Gospel of John 3:14-21

I don’t know about you, but at least for me it seems that Lent is flying by. It might have something to do with major life change that will be coming to my house soon. But even so, we’re already entering the fourth week of the season. Wow. As such, this week we revisit the lectionary’s love for John 3. Last year it was framed as John 3:1-17 in the second week of Lent. This year, we we read John 3:14-21 in the fourth week.

No matter the selection, when put in context, this familiar gospel passage for me is perhaps at the heart of the story and promise, of who we are as God’s children, and who God is. If we’re not careful we could give into the popular culture belief around John 3:16 as the end all, be all verse. It’s a great verse, don’t get me wrong. But if we let it be it’s own verse, we perhaps over simplify God’s love, and we also perhaps give ourselves too much credit for what should be God’s work. Because if we are not careful when we read, “so that everyone who believes in him…” (John 3:16, NRSV), the whole act of believing may become a work. Whereas, when put in concert with this week’s reading from Paul, we know that faith is a gift from God.

One depiction of the world God loves so much, as described in John 3, designed by friend, colleague and pastor Juliet Hampton, with a little help from friend Diane Harpster.

This may seem like a small thing, but I would argue it’s a big thing for understanding our relationship with God and one another. When reading John 3, I have to admit, my favorite verse is really verse 17, where we read that, “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, NRSV). For me, this is actually the heart of the gospel, not the more famous verse before it. This is a pure gift and promise. How do we live into this and live in response to it? How are we called to be a John 3:17 people?

Too often in our culture and society whether we intend to or not, we go about the work of creating barriers, walls, and divisions. We go about casting people here or there, judging them, differentiating, condemning, etc. We lose sight of the fact that God’s love doesn’t work like this. God’s love is poured out on the cross with arms outstretched. These arms aren’t just for a few. They are wide and outstretched for all. They are outstretched “in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

This is the story of the gospel. This is the story we are called to live into, live out of, and to steward and share. How do we steward it through the way we live, serve, breathe, and grow in our daily lives and in all that we are and do? 

Do we live gratefully like the psalmist calls us to do this week, saying, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1, NRSV). Do we follow the psalmist’s call to “thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind” (Psalm 107:21, NRSV)? Or, do we more often hoard these stories, gifts, and promises for ourselves?

On the other hand, do we think that it’s all up to us, and if we don’t do it, someone (or ourselves) won’t be saved? If so, we need to remember what Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV).

What we do matters. But it doesn’t matter for our own salvation. That’s God’s work in Christ, for us. And at the same time, faith in God is a gift. It’s not something we can suddenly create more of, or generate more of and store it up for ourselves. No. What we do matters though, because we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” for the sake of our neighbor.

It’s for the world around us, for those near and far to us, that we are called, equipped, empowered, and entrusted with whatever we might need in our vocations and daily lives to serve our neighbor and share God’s story, love, and promises. God has already done the hard saving work on the cross, once and for all. But we sometimes lose sight of this. We sometimes take it for granted. And at other times, we wish that God’s love is limited to a few of us, to those of us who believe enough. It’s at these times where belief becomes a work and not a gift. And it’s at these times where we miss the point of God’s story, work, promises, and love.

In the midst of this, we know that grace and love abounds. Thanks be to God for that. In thinking about stewardship this week, I think I would look for ways to share the gratitude of the psalmist in light of and response to the gifts and promises made clear in the gospel and reading from Ephesians this week.

One other idea, might be to dig deeper into the theme of story. Because both the gospel and Ephesians text (at least in Lutheran circles) are two passages that are very familiar in most contexts. Even with that familiarity, how do we hear a new word in such a familiar story? And do we steward these better known stories of God’s love today?

In whatever direction you might feel led, may God’s love, grace, and promise be made known to you and through you this week.

Sunday March 11, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Narrative Theme for the Day: Jesus and Pilate (Year 4, Week 27)
Focus Passages: John 18:28-40
Psalm 145:10-13

We continue this week to progress through John’s recounting of Jesus’ passion. This week we focus on the trial of Jesus and particularly the conversation between Jesus and Pilate. In terms of stewardship, I think I would feel pulled to ponder these ideas of kingdom and conceptions or identity of kingship.

Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36, NRSV). God’s kingdom is much different than what we might understand kingdom to mean. In our worldly contexts kingdoms might have physical barriers, with power and prestige. Perhaps they may have the power of control without limits of any kind. (Including perhaps a ruler with no time limit, who could serve indefinitely.)

Thankfully this is not God’s kingdom, nor how it works. God’s kingdom is one that is different. It’s one where kingship looks like service, stooping to one’s knee to wash another’s feet. In this kingdom, kingship looks like bearing another’s burdens. Or even offering up one’s self with arms outstretched for others.

What are signs of the kingdom that you have seen? How do you steward your ideas, dreams, hopes, and knowledge of this kingdom? Pondering these questions might bring some new stewardship perspective and breadth to this important but well known part of the passion story which we hear in some form every year in the midst of Holy Week (if not more frequently than that).

Jesus again answers Pilate saying, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37, NRSV). This may help put into perspective God’s kingdom, and how we are a part of it, and in relationship with it, and with God.

I also appreciate the pairing of the verses from Psalm 145 this week. The psalmist says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13, NRSV). This pairing makes this story sound a bit more hopeful than it might otherwise sound during the heat and drama of the passion story during Holy Week and Good Friday.

We know the rest of the story. The people’s verdict which Pilate tries to wash his hands of, is not the final word. God’s kingdom “endures throughout all generations.” Indeed, if this is the direction you might feel pulled, then it might be hard not to sing “A Mighty Fortress” as one of your faith community’s hymns this week.

Whatever direction you do feel pulled, may the Kingdom of God break in around you, opening your eyes and offering you a chance to bear witness as part of it’s joy, mystery, challenge, hope, and peace.

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