Preaching on Stewardship- July 15, 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 July 15, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 15)
First Lesson: Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel of Mark 6:14-29

Last week I wrote that for preaching on stewardship, it might be “The Gospel or Bust.” Well, this week, it might be the exact opposite. Anything but the Gospel! Boy that feels weird and wrong to write, but hear me out.

The gospel this week is a story filled with the limits and abuses of human power, the failures of human leadership, the limits of human stewardship when we are left to our own desires and ends, corruption, sin, evil, and brokenness. Sound familiar? (And no, I am not talking about anything in the current day news, though if it sounds fitting for you, maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something in you, and maybe the Spirit’s nudging you to be a prophetic voice.) This week’s story is actually Mark’s telling of the beheading of John the Baptist. There’s no way to spin this as a cheery story. And maybe that’s important, that we name the evil that exists and don’t avoid it.

We read in this story, that “an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it'” (Mark 6:21-22, NRSV). Well, you know the rest of the story.

If you are looking for an opportunity to reflect on the limits of human powers and the evils of sin and broken relationships, this is as important of a text as any. But, if feeling called to think about how we are stewards of God’s love, then maybe this is not quite the text to focus on, unless you want to offer it as a juxtaposition, and point to it as an example of what happens when we lose sight of God, when we don’t love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. 

This horrible story is countered this week perhaps with the words and argument of the psalmist who proclaims that, “The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase” (Psalm 85:12, NRSV). Surely, the beheading of John is not something good, and I hope we can agree about that. But rather, what comes from God is a call to be in relationship, a gift of adoption as heirs and Children of God, and all the resources from the land that we are entrusted with to care for, use, manage, and steward. And this is where I think I might be led if preaching on stewardship this week.

In the New Testament lesson this week Paul writes:

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:5-8, NRSV).

Through God’s work, and God’s work alone, we are redeemed, reconciled, forgiven, and saved. These are the gifts of God given to us and for us, ones we could never earn. God gives these freely, because God desires to be in relationship with God’s children. And in this relationship we are called, invited, and equipped as stewards and disciples of God’s love.

Paul adds:

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14, NRSV).

This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” Amen to that!

Last week we took Caroline to the zoo for the second time. She was captivated by lemurs, especially these ones who were sleeping together in a ball. Maybe it’s a survival thing, but it looks like love in action. And maybe there is a lesson about God’s love in this for us? Just as there might be in the love a newborn shows and gives to her parents, and hopefully one that her parents and family reciprocates.

How do we live in light of this pledge or promise? How do we live as stewards grateful for God’s love and all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us?

I might sound like a broken record, but I think to ask these questions in your preaching this week might be moving and timely. If you pair it with the gospel, perhaps you might ask, do we live in the light of the freedom of the good news which Paul proclaims for us and the people of Ephesus today? Or, do we go about the pursuit of our desires like Herod, others be darn? How we live matters, not so much for our own sake, for God has already done that. But how we live and why we live, matters for the sake of our neighbors whom God calls us to be in relationship with.

In whatever direction the Spirit might pull you this week, may God’s love and promises be made known to you, and with the courage and push of the Spirit may you be prophetic and open to share that love and those promises in spite of the challenges that we all might face in our world and communities today.

Sunday July 15, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: 1st John (Week Four)
Focus Passages: 1 John 4:7-21
Gospel Verse: John 15:9-11

This is the fourth and final week in our mini-series in 1 John this summer, and what a powerful reading to dwell in. It’s all about love. The love of God for us and for the world. The love that we are shown, and called to show to others. And an acknowledgement that sharing that love in its deepest sense might be challenging, but it is imperative. In terms of stewardship, I think I would wrestle with the big over-arching question, how are we stewards of God’s love?

You might hear this passage at a wedding. It’s not always the most popular wedding passage, but it can be used well and meaningfully. Allison and I used it in our’s in fact, and we had our uncles preach and preside with these words in mind. We like them, because better than some other parts of the Bible, we still believe that this passage does a nice job of getting to the complexity of both the joy and challenges of love.

This week we read the famous words:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12, NRSV).

If we love one another, God lives in us…” Wow. What a possibility. How powerful and important. We often try and wonder what God might be up to in the world, and perhaps even around us. But how and what might God be up to in us and through us? And in this movement and action, how might we be stewards and bearers then of God’s love in action?

In the news and on social media, there has been a lot of push back lately to people posting and sharing stories about the needs of our neighbors and of families being divided with children separated from their parents. Some people have said, “we have laws that need to be followed.” But these responses can usually be grouped in one or two veins. They are either the result of someone trying to bury their head in the sand, perhaps saying “oh shucks. Sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.” Or, they are an attempt by someone to justify this terrible and sinful action with some sense of law devoid of the affects of the law on people, often because of a perceived fear, or sense of scarcity. (Forgetting that the biblical purpose of the law is “that life may go well for you.”)  There’s a fear that if “they” are here, it might mean there’s less for me. 

The writer of 1st John may have had this in mind when naming and confronting this sense of fear as something outside of love. We read that,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:18-21, NRSV).

Put another way, “those who love God must love their neighbors,” as in God’s family, we are all brothers and sisters. All. Period. There is no qualifier here.

To connect this to the gospel would be pretty easy, either to go back to Jesus’ summation of the law as “to love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” or perhaps in the gospel verse pairing for this week’s reading from John, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10, NRSV). That seems pretty clear.

There are times when we will sin, and times where we may make mistakes, and need to reorient ourselves. But at the heart of these words is a hope from God and God in Christ that we may live abundantly and live joy filled lives. Jesus says as much, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11, NRSV). Jesus wants us to live lives of joy, and this joy is really grounded in love.

So I wonder, do we live joyfully and in God’s abundance? Or do we live in fear, and are overcome with the fears of scarcity? The answer to these questions might just tell us how we are doing as stewards of God’s love.

Whatever words or questions might grab you, may God’s love hold you, challenge you, and give you peace which you will share with all those you might meet or preach to this week.

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