Preaching on Stewardship- August 12, 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 August 12, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 19)
First Lesson: 1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Gospel of John 6:35, 41-51

Another week, another opportunity to dwell in the Good News that Jesus is “the bread of life.” We hear again that, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'” (John 6:35, NRSV). Furthermore Jesus also says, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life” (John 6:47-48, NRSV).

Jesus, the Bread of Life offers life abundant. That’s good news, and it’s a stewardship message and story that needs to be told just as much today as any day. In some ways, perhaps it’s a story that needs to be told now more than ever. It’s a story that counters the cultural narrative of scarcity. It’s a story that counters the one of fear that is being sown among those holding earthly power. Jesus says to all of these, there is another way. Jesus says, “I am the truth and the life.”

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Sharing food and fellowship. Here’s an example of enjoying abundant life in Christ, the Bread of Life, as Caroline met (and had dinner) with her Great Uncle David and cousin Erin.

In today’s story Jesus explains a bit further. Jesus says, “‘Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’” (John 6:49-51, NRSV).

Jesus today offers another way- a fulfillment of God’s promise, but also a bearer of God’s love and promises. Jesus offers himself for all, and that’s a pure gift we could never earn or deserve. That’s a kind of gift, love, life, and service that is not a norm among humanity. It’s something that could only come from God.

In thinking about stewardship beyond the gospel this week, how might we live joyfully and in response to God’s love for us? The psalmist, as often the case, offers an example. The psalmist proclaims, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:1-4, NRSV). The psalmist points to God as another way, in response to any and all fears.

God offers us bread of life. One that we are called to enjoy and partake in by the psalmist who says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8, NRSV). In terms of stewardship I wonder, how do we steward our relationship with God? How do we steward our calls to love and serve? How do we listen to God’s movement in and around us? How do we steward our lives, lives which are called to bear witness to the very bread of life? 

Paul also offers an opportunity to think about our stewardship- especially in terms of how we steward all that we have and all that we are for the sake of our neighbors. Paul calls us to be in relationship with them and to care for them, as together we are members of the Body of Christ. He writes, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25, NRSV).

In an age of polarization and divisiveness, Paul calls for another way. Paul calls us to live in love as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” He writes, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:31-5:2, NRSV).

What we do, how we live, what we sacrifice, etc., is our stewardship. It’s our joyful response to God for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do. And our joyful response is in part how God’s Kingdom breaks in, as the Body of Christ is built up, little by little. A kingdom that is built off the promise and relationship of God in Christ, who is the Bread of Life for all.

Whatever promises are speaking to you this week, may God’s promises and love challenge you and comfort you, and may they be shared through you too.

Sunday August 12, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Ruth (Week Four)
Focus Passages: Ruth 4:1-22
Gospel Verse: Luke 1:46-55

This is the fourth and final week of our four-week series and journey through the four chapter book of Ruth. And as you probably know, it would seem that Ruth offers a happy ending for what seemed to be the uncertain lives of Naomi and Ruth, who did what they needed to to survive. (Editor’s Note: Uncertain but heroic and courageous!)

In today’s story, Boaz explains, “The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.’ At this, the next-of-kin said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it'” (Ruth 4:5-6, NRSV). On the one hand, such a concept sickens. The idea that people could be acquired, inherited, and redeemed. If needing an opportunity to talk about the evils of slavery and trafficking, this is it. How might we live and steward messages of hope and justice in light of such evil in society? 

Though Ruth and Naomi are technically “acquired,” they largely engineered this “transaction” out of their own hope for safety and security, but also out of their deep faith that God would show up, provide, and have mercy. Boaz continues, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses” (Ruth 4:10, NRSV).

Boaz is doing God’s work in the midst of a society and system where people are not equals. He is seeing to it that Ruth and Naomi are taken care of, and that the family legacies from which they are a part of are as well. Boaz in this sense is showing the heart of a steward who cares for others, and even perhaps for others’ legacies.

When this news had been discerned, women proclaimed to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:14-15, NRSV). Such an act of restoration is an act of joy and deliverance. It’s also an act in which God most certainly shows up. 

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Speaking of promise, legacy, and wonder. Caroline, like anyone’s child or grandchild, might be like that for her family. To this, she looks at the world with a genuine sense of wonder and joy, like the wonder she shows in this picture at the Omaha Zoo and Aquarium, looking at the fish, sharks, and turtles swimming all around and especially overhead.

Not the least of which way God shows up is through the legacy and lineage of Ruth, from whom the line of David would come. “Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David” (Ruth 4:18-22, NRSV). We also know who comes from the line of David, don’t we? What a promise to be sure. 

It’s fitting that this promise from the story of Ruth is accompanied by the powerful words of the Magnificat as sung by Mary, who too would proclaim about God’s provision and promise.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever” (Luke 1:46-55, NRSV).

This is a week to think about God’s promises. In terms of stewardship, making this a focus could be a great way to summarize Ruth, but also to set the stage for the narrative’s following three-week series on stewardship and generosity starting next week. If we understand that this is God’s work and God’s promises, we can better appreciate that our stewardship comes in response to God’s work, while also at times being a way in which God’s work is done today through us. 

In whatever way Ruth’s story moves you this week, may God’s love and promise be made known to you and through you.

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