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 July 8, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 14)
First Lesson: Ezekiel 2:1-5
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Gospel of Mark 6:1-13
I believe that there is a lesson about stewardship and discipleship that can be found, learned, or remembered in most pericopes. However, in following the lectionary, I also believe that some weeks can be much harder to find that lesson or nugget than others. This week, I think might be the hardest week in months.
To be honest, in preaching this week on stewardship I think for me it would be “the Gospel or bust!”
If up for a challenge, you might push yourself to ponder about how we are stewards of the prophetic word, in relation to the reading from Ezekiel 2. If you are in a context where social ministry and social justice are core parts of the ministry, perhaps this would make for a powerful stewardship sermon. Or, if feeling inspired, confronted or conflicted by the stories and news that seems to be constant these days, perhaps there is something about stewardship that needs to be said here.
In terms of the Gospel story this week, it’s a two part story. First, is Jesus’ return home. Perhaps any of us could relate. It can be awfully hard at times to go home and see those who helped form us or grow up with us, and then share a word of truth. Whether it be to go home and “preach,” or just to go home and tell those who you care about something they may not want to hear. Jesus says as much,
“On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house'” (Mark 6:2-4, NRSV).
That first part might offer an opportunity for thinking about the stewardship of leaders in our communities. Do we give opportunities for people, youth, etc., to grow, experiment, and develop into leaders? Do we intentionally or unintentionally get in the way of this? And perhaps when they might leave for a time to go to school or travel the world, do we welcome them back openly, or with suspicion? There should be some intentional thought about these questions this week especially in your congregations if you sent some of your young leaders to the ELCA National Youth Gathering. How will you welcome them back, and offer them opportunities to share their stories and dreams, and also opportunities for them to continue growing as leaders, disciples, and stewards?
More broadly, this could be an important week for thinking actually about how we are stewards of welcome. Or, whether are we actually stewards of welcome? In the first part of the story, it raises the question about whether we ourselves or our communities would welcome back one or many who might have left for awhile (like Jesus in this story). The second part of the story this week is about how Jesus sends the disciples out in their ministry and vocations, with advice about how to engage or hopefully be welcomed by those that they visit and encounter.
In terms of the community, do we welcome a visitor or someone who comes, no matter the reason with a handshake, listening ears, shelter, food and water for the journey? Or, do we lock our doors and stand behind our own metaphorical walls or barriers so that we might not have to engage with a hard truth, or be in relationship with a new neighbor or stranger? Jesus tells the disciples, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11, NRSV). I for one, would not want to be on the receiving end of the dust being shaken off. How about you?
Thinking about how we might be bearers or stewards of welcome, also includes how we might be bearers of love (or not) through our hospitality. We read,
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics” (Mark 6:7-9, NRSV).
These disciples if they show up at your door, are apparently traveling very light. It would be like today someone getting on one of those low-fare airlines where to even bring a carry-on you would have to pay extra. So, these disciples are traveling with literally only the clothes that they are wearing. How might we be bearers of hospitality for people like this? How might we steward what God has entrusted to us to help meet their needs, and be a part of God’s work in that way?
There is one more possible thought about stewardship preaching this week that comes to mind when first digging into the gospel story. In sending out the disciples, they are being sent out to “proclaim” or tell the story of God, and to serve and heal. “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:12-13, NRSV).
Put another way, the disciples have been sent out to go, tell, and serve. That’s kind of at the heart of what we are, and who we are as called and sent Children of God, disciples, and stewards. Maybe this week, some thoughts or progress report on how we are doing at this as the church might be appropriate. Or, highlight a few ways that we might as the community grow into this, with needs that are within and just outside the walls of the church.
Wherever you might go and wherever you might be led, be encouraged. Jesus himself was rejected often, especially at home for being a bearer of truth and love. My hope for you is that you won’t be rejected, but at the same time you will find a way to share God’s prophetic word of truth, justice, mercy and love this week as a steward of God’s love.
We’re moving right along this summer in the Narrative Lectionary, as we enter the second half of the four week sampling of 1 John. In thinking about stewardship, I don’t think there is anyway to avoid thinking about how we steward our communication, messaging, and telling the story this week. How do we discern what comes from God, and what doesn’t? What might be “true,” and what might be “fake news?”
We read this famous opening line, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, NRSV). Without digging into social or political spheres too much, oh how tempting it might be to ponder what some of these “false prophets” look and sound like. I think in terms of stewardship, I would be more interested or concerned with how these “false prophets” get in the way of people knowing the love of God, the gifts of God, and the promises of God.
When we hear messages that “we must be strong,” or “there is much to fear,” we are indeed hearing messages of false prophets. God has already overcome all of this nonsense, and thankfully we could never earn God’s love, or save ourselves. So, why do we keep hearing these messages that say otherwise?
Or, when we hear messages about “we must take care of ourselves,” “us over all others,” or “they are _____,” we are hearing messages of othering. These are messages of division, and they too are not of God. They are of false prophets in the world, or at least messages from those who have lost sight of the radical inclusivity that is God’s love for all of God’s children and creation.
Before I go too far down this road on my soapbox, I will let the heart of this passage speak for itself:
“Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:4-6, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship, I wonder, how do we steward truth, love, and mercy in response to such false and antithetical understandings of the gospel? How do we steward these messages and communicate them?
It’s pretty powerful to dwell in this word for 1st John with the passage about the Advocate or Holy Spirit in John 14, which is the appointed gospel accompaniment this week. It begins, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NRSV). Remember, Jesus has summarized the commandments as “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” So, what Jesus seems to be saying here, is if we love Christ, we will do this, we will “love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves.”
The Spirit makes this possible. Perhaps you dwelled in these words a few weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday, but they are good words to dwell in again today as Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17, NRSV).
My hope is that wherever you feel led and moved by the Spirit this week, that God’s truth, love, and promise fills you, and moves through you this week, and that God will use you to bring that love, truth, and reminders of God’s promises to others.