Preaching on Stewardship- July 22, 2018

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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 22, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 16)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2:11-22
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

It’s the summer version of “Good Shepherd Sunday.” That means that we again will hear, read, and/or sing the familiar words of Psalm 23. In terms of stewardship, you could preach a whole stewardship sermon perhaps off the first verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, NRSV). If the concept of “enough” might be one that is under your skin, or a good chance for your community to ponder the gifts and resources that you already have, then I highly recommend exploring this.

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This picture could be a fitting one for both the RCL and NL this week. In terms of the RCL, this picture of my Grandma holding her first great-grand child could well be a sign of God’s promise and abundance. In terms of the NL, not only might it be a sign of God’s provision, it could also be one of God’s relationships and those relationships God calls us into. Grandma, for example, was a pastor’s spouse, and as such, she was called and led to move a few times in her life, in most cases far from home and the rest of her family. Whatever illustration works for you with this picture, for me it’s one of joy and love of Grandma who is now a Great-Grandma with her great grand-daughter.

Going a little further in the psalm might provide an opportunity to think about God’s promises and abundance. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Psalm 23:5-6, NRSV). These beautiful words we know so well, are full of the imagery of God’s abundance and promises.

These words are also a wonderful contrast to the feast and platter that were in the horrible gospel story last week, an example of a human feast built on injustice, murder, and sin. Rather than a feast like that, this is a feast in Psalm 23 that is for all, made possible through God’s love as a pure a gift. There’s some stewardship wisdom there, to be sure. (For more stewardship ideas on preaching on Psalm 23, check out some possibilities here.)

Speaking of the gospel, there are a couple possibilities for stewardship in this week’s appointed passages. In setting the stage for this story, we read that “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30, NRSV). The act of the apostles of gathering, doing, and telling are acts of discipleship obviously, but they are also acts of stewardship- that of telling the story of what God has done and what they have seen God up to around them and perhaps even through them. How does this experience play out in your faith community and context?

If feeling like your context needs to take a breath this summer, and remember to experience the sabbath or rest, there could be good opportunity in the gospel this week for digging into this, as Jesus invited the apostles to do just this. Jesus “said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves” (Mark 6:31-32, NRSV). What might this invitation look like for you? More broadly, how might this be an opportunity to think about how we steward our time in our lives?

If looking to pull the themes of this summer version of a “Good Shepherd” Sunday together, then there is an opportunity to remember that this is God’s work, as God in Christ is our shepherd. We read, “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34, NRSV). Sometimes we put the weight of the world on our shoulders, but we need to remember that we are not God. And thanks be to God for that. Maybe that’s something we need to hear again this week.

If needing to point to more about God’s work and promises this week, Ephesians is certainly full of them.

For example, we read:

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV).

And we also read about our relationship with God and one another, as “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…”

“So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:17-20, NRSV).

These reminders of God’s promises are a part of stewardship, in the sense that our stewardship is our response to God’s work and promises for us.

Wherever you feel drawn this week, may God’s love and promises be made known to you, and may that love and those promises be made known through you too.

Sunday July 22, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Ruth (Week One)
Focus Passages: Ruth 1:1-22
Gospel Verse: Matthew 5:3-9

Summer in the narrative lectionary continues this week with the beginning of a four week focus on the book of Ruth. This week we begin with a deep look at the relationship of Ruth and Naomi, and the journey which they are about to embark. In terms of stewardship, there seems to be a theme both about relationships (and our stewardship of them), but also about God’s provision. We read, “Then she (Naomi) started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food” (Ruth 1:6, NRSV).

God is providing food, for a family uncertain of its well-being and future, perhaps even unsafe in the land where it finds itself, this promise and provision may be calling. (After all, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah were all husbandless now, not a safe place to be in a society that generally women could not work or earn wages.) It’s probably not a perfect parallel to the story of refugees, but it certainly could be an opportunity to point to the plight of refugees and those seeking to help improve the life of their families, especially in the midst of what looks like an utterly helpless situation.

In terms of relationships, the “Song of Ruth” is famous for its beauty and depth of Ruth’s willingness to stay with Naomi. It’s a response that has often been used in weddings, in fact, it’s one that shaped a song that I sang to Allison during our wedding. In this famous expression of devotion and relationship, Ruth says to Naomi, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17, NRSV).

I wonder, what kind of relationships like this do we all have in our lives? How do we care for them? How do we cultivate them? How do we steward them? 

A little later in the story we read that, “Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22, NRSV). Ah, Bethlehem, kind of an important place in our faith, isn’t it? One that continues to find itself to this day in the midst of turmoil of the Holy Land.

As we begin our journey in Ruth, this week is a good place to paint the overall context for the book. In terms of stewardship I think I would be drawn to the relationships piece as mentioned, but also God’s provision.

Perhaps too it might be worth wondering why the observation that it is the “beginning of the barley harvest” might be included in today’s story? Or, the fact that it bookends a story that starts with a family leaving Bethlehem in Judah to live in the country of Moab during a time of “famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1, NRSV). These observations might make for an important reflection about God’s provision, and the needs of our neighbors and strangers- needs for the basic necessities of life- food, water, and shelter. When any of these are challenged or limited, we need to help our neighbors in need to receive it. And that is exactly what is happening in today’s world with the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

It’s hard to ignore these observations this week in part, because of the paired gospel of the Beatitudes from Matthew:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:3-9, NRSV).

The three women in this story must find a way to survive, and in their search Orpah returned to her homeland. But Ruth refused to leave Naomi, for she cared for her mother-in-law, and would not stand to see her without hope, safety, and the basic sustenance of life. All together, the three women are people who are looking at us today, and perhaps even looking to us. Will they find welcome, food, water, and shelter with us? If not, then what might that mean for our identity as stewards and disciples? 

How ever you might answer those questions, or feel drawn by this story this week, may God’s love, promise, and provision show up for you and through you.

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