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 19, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 20)
First Lesson: Proverbs 9:1-6
Second Lesson: Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel of John 6:51-58
Another week in August brings more thought from Jesus about living bread. Thinking about stewardship, you could stick with the gospel this week and build off of last week’s story. We read again that Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51, NRSV). This is the gospel. It’s proclamation and promise.
Our stewardship of course flows from all of this. But even more so, there is a promise of life eternal and abundant life with Christ. Jesus continues, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:53-56, NRSV). Perhaps it might be a good week to think about what it means to abide in one another? That might just have stewardship implications for thinking about our stewardship of relationships.
In case it’s not clear that this promise and act of God is being fulfilled and unique in God in Christ, Jesus makes it clear by distinguishing himself again from the manna that came down to the people Israel in the wilderness. He explains, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:57-58, NRSV).
There are stewardship ideas to be found in the gospel this week, but perhaps you might be like me, and after a few weeks of John 6, you are looking for a little bit of different imagery. In that case, Psalm 34 and Ephesians 5 might be good places to dwell.
This week we hear from the psalmist that, “The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10, NRSV). There is a truth here that God provides, much like God provides the Bread of Life. It’s not a prosperity gospel sort of thing, but rather a promise that in God, we will be cared for. Through God, vocations, talents, gifts, and strengths will be discerned and offered, offering hope, purpose, and abundant life.
In Ephesians this week Paul continues his discourse about life, discipleship, the Spirit, and I would even argue stewardship. Paul writes, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NRSV). There is some wisdom here so that life might go well, but also about how we steward our time. Do you make the most of your time? Perhaps this might be a helpful reflection for preaching this week, as we come to the last few days before school returns or weeks of summer weather for most people in the Northern Hemisphere. How did you/are you spending your days? And might you need to adjust your sense of your stewardship of time to live more abundantly?
Later in Ephesians 5, Paul writes, “but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20, NRSV). Paul returns to the theme of “giving thanks” and singing and offering praise. This is a central part of stewardship obviously. Perhaps it might be a good week to offer some of that in preaching about the Bread of Life, a gift we could never earn but be grateful for, and give thanks and praise for.
Wherever you might be led, may God’s love and presence be made known to you and through you this week.
Sunday August 19, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Stewardship/Generosity (Week 1)
Focus Passage: Matthew 6:19-34
The summer rolls on, and so do the short series of the Narrative Lectionary. Before the new narrative lectionary year starts on September 9th, we have a 3-week series and focus on stewardship and generosity. And before you ask, no, I didn’t pay the Narrative Lectionary people for this wonderful opportunity for preaching on stewardship. (I also didn’t give input on what stories to include for a stewardship or generosity narrative). That said, we start our three week focus with a text rich with stewardship and perhaps even generosity imagery.
Pastor Karl Jacobson offers a helpful commentary at Working Preacher for thinking about this text and series, including the observation that this three-week series will help counter the sense of worry, grief, and fear which are part of our scarcity society and lives. Stewardship and generosity offer other ways. This week’s story is a good opportunity to think about worry and the alternatives that God provides for us. (For more on this, please check out Karl’s commentary.)
In terms of my own reactions, I’ll take them in order. I’ll admit, I have a bit of an interest in this passage not just because of the theme and obvious nature of its stewardship imagery, but also because I happen to be preaching on this text later this week myself. So in thinking about that, I’ll let you into where my mind is currently going with this story.
First, as in the holistic nature of stewardship, there is a question of priority. Where do we place our priorities. What holds our heart? What guides our decision making, and the way we spend our time and resources? Jesus is inviting us to ponder these questions as he teaches, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You could certainly preach a whole stewardship sermon on that last sentence alone. But this week’s story, has so much more in it to potentially consider too.
Consider this famous verse, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24, NRSV). Jesus and the the gospel writer are making it pretty clear here, that there will be conflict and challenge in life, especially as it pertains to being a Child of God, disciple, and steward; and being one in the world working, earning, and accumulating wealth. To what end is our wealth? Is it being stewarded and used to do God’s work? Or, are we simply building it up and hoarding it? In which case, we’re no longer seeing it as something that is actually God’s, which God has entrusted to us to use, manage, and steward.
If the congregation is a bit sleepy this week, perhaps you might wake them up in the sermon by inviting them to respond to a series of questions about what they think Jesus talks about most in the gospels. This activity is actually one of my favorites for getting gasps from people. Long story short, I invite people to stand up if they think that Jesus talks about money/wealth/possessions more than:
- Heaven and Hell
- The Kingdom of God
The last one is the trick. According to some scholars who have counted such things in the gospels, Jesus talks about money, wealth, or possessions more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. Why does he do this? I would think because he recognizes how important this is and challenging it can be, especially for our relationship with God. Wealth can quickly become a barrier to a life close with God if we let it have power, and treat it more as an end in itself, than a resource to be used and stewarded.
This gospel story this week, just keeps going though, with different images which the gospel writer has combined into this discourse. Countering our human sense of worry, or not being enough, Jesus calls us to consider life with God more directly. Perhaps he is even inviting us into a life of gratitude, and generosity. Or, put another way, perhaps he is inviting us into the joy of abundant life? Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26, NRSV).
Jesus’ reasoning just keeps going with this beautiful image of a field, and with the hope that our life is not dictated by questions about daily needs or wants. (Though again, recognize that without access to basic food, water, and shelter, it’s pretty hard to live fully and gratefully. And there are plenty of people in our world who do struggle to access these basic things because those who have these resources, aren’t always willing to share them.)
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” (Matthew 6:27-31, NRSV).
As we turn the corner to the end of this week’s story, the hymn or worship song, “Seek Ye First,” is hard to ignore in the back of my mind. Because Jesus says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). There is the reference to the Kingdom of God, that one thing that Jesus talks about more than money, wealth, or possessions. Jesus is calling us to put our attention an focus on what should be central. He is inviting us to reorient ourselves, and perhaps live then not in fear and worry, but in joyful gratitude generously. He is inviting us to rest in the promises of abundance that God makes and provides.
Jesus even offers one more piece of peace, concluding, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34, NRSV). Indeed. There is plenty of things to focus on in daily life, let alone the world around us that could use examples of this other way that Jesus is talking about. Not the least of which might be that it’s not about wealth, or the fear of not having enough. Rather, abundant life is recognizing what God provides, being grateful and thankful for it, and so caught up in joy for it, that we share what God entrusts to us, to help meet our neighbors’ needs near and far. When this happens, the Kingdom of God breaks into our world, bit by bit.
Whatever parts of this story grab you this week, you can’t help but preach a wonderful and important stewardship sermon. May our God of promise and abundance challenge and comfort you this week, and may that same promise and abundance be shared through you.