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 June 24, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 12)
First Lesson: Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Gospel of Mark 4:35-41
It’s safe to say, I grew up on the water. Whether learning how to swim in Wildcat Lake, or boogie-boarding in the Pacific waters at Newport Beach in Southern California on vacation, or out kayaking on Liberty Bay and Hood Canal, or crossing the Puget Sound on the Washington State ferries, or splashing and exploring in the creek behind my family’s home… a good amount of my time was spent on and in the water. That might explain why I love this gospel story (and others like it) so much.
Amid the rocking and the rolling of the waves, Jesus was sound asleep. I imagine it’s not all that different from my daughter’s ability to sleep through the pounding winds and thunderstorms of a Nebraskan spring or early summer. Jesus’ disciples, just like Caroline’s parents, aren’t as good at sleeping amid the storms.
Sometimes we need to remember and hear the words, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39, NRSV). Jesus says this and the wind ceases and the storm dissipates. Sometimes we get so caught up in our worries about the storms around us, that we lose sight of God’s presence. Sometimes we get so caught up in the world around us, that we lose sight of God’s promised and on-going presence with us.
In thinking about stewardship this week, perhaps thinking about how we are stewards of presence and a message of hope might be helpful in your context. In the world today, God’s story of hope and redemption, an on-going story that we are a part of needs to be told. In a world where governments and nations are moving towards isolation and separation in many cases, we are moving in this direction largely because of irrational fear. As Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40, NRSV).
In our culture we are told to be afraid. We are told that we are not enough. Our own government is basically telling families this as they are being separated at the southern border. But our gospel provides another way. Jesus confronts us with two big questions, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
I admit, this might be harder to do at times, especially when out on the Puget Sound in a rocking and rolling ferry boat being tossed about in white caps and fifty mile an hour winds, or when driving on the freeway in Nebraska with wind gusts of fifty miles or more, and the semi-trucks all around you are fighting to stay in their lane. But these fears are no reason to give up and go home. They are no reason to turn our back on our neighbors in need. Especially when we remember that like Jesus was on that rocking and rolling boat, God is very much present and with us.
For this, in a stewardship sense we must give thanks. The psalmist surmises well, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders” (Psalm 107:28-32, NRSV).
When we give into our fears, we lose sight of God’s presence. We allow our fears to separate and divide. We allow them to cut off relationships, and out of fear, we succumb to our sinful desire of security. We give in to this sense that we don’t have enough. That we aren’t secure enough. In terms of stewardship, we allow the sinfulness of scarcity to rule.
In counter to this, Paul writes, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10, NRSV). The popular culture and powers that be, would have us believe that we have nothing, while in reality, we possess everything in Christ. When we remember this, we remember that we have abundant life in God in Christ.
Abundance is not only the opposite of scarcity, it is also counter to fear. You can’t have abundance of life and live in fear. And when we sit, live, serve, and grow in God’s abundance, the abundance that we have been entrusted with, perhaps we can positively respond to Paul’s call to “Open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:13, NRSV). It’s a stewardship call after all, to open one’s heart. That’s what God calls us to do in relationship with God and our neighbor, because that’s precisely what God does every day for us. It’s what God did on the cross with open arms, and it’s what God offers to us each day- in God’s grace, love, hope, purpose, and forgiveness.
How do we live as abundant stewards of God’s love, counter to a world that holds on to the lie of scarcity? How do we live and serve as stewards in hope, in a world that tells us we should be afraid? Any question like this would certainly make for a powerful stewardship sermon.
In whatever direction the Holy Spirit leads, may God’s presence, love, abundance, and promise be made known to you and through you this week.
This week in the Narrative Lectionary we begin our second summer series, a four week focus on 1 John. It’s a book that often doesn’t get a lot of attention, so it could be a wonderful focus for your context. In a stewardship sense this week, I think I would wrestle intently with 1 John 1:4, “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4, NRSV).
“We are writhing these things so that our joy may be complete.” What gives you joy? When have you felt joy in Christ? Responding to these questions might lead to some stories of ministry in action in your midst that would be powerful and need to be told. More so, when connecting joy in a personal sense, to a response to what God has done and promises to do, it will certainly make for a powerful stewardship sermon.
Relatedly, having this week’s focus passage be connected with the gospel of John 1 could add for some more power and depth. In this famous passage, often heard in worship on Christmas morning we read and remember, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NRSV). It’s pretty easy to connect this to joy isn’t it? And for added measure, don’t forget, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16, NRSV).
When pairing this idea of “grace upon grace,” with “so that our joy may be complete,” we have an opportunity to both think about what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do, but also about what our joyful response for God’s work and gifts and promises for us are. Any such reflection is at the heart of thinking about what it means to be a steward of God’s love.
Wherever these words from John might lead you this week, may God’s grace and joy be made known to you and through you.