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 26, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 21)
First Lesson: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Second Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel of John 6:56-69
Congratulations. You have done it. You have made it to the last week of the marathon of Year B of the lectionary through John 6, dwelling in the imagery of bread and the identity of Jesus as the “Bread of Life.” In terms of stewardship there isn’t an overly obvious stewardship story in the lectionary this week. But there are nuggets for stewardship wisdom.
Let’s start with the gospel story. At the end of the story Simon Peter gives his famous response, which we often now sing or say as part of the Gospel Acclamation in worship. To Jesus, Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69, NRSV) In thinking about stewardship, this hits at the core of the story of who we are, who is God, and why we are God’s people.
As story is central to stewardship, this might just be a good opportunity to reframe stewardship in your context, or to align it ever more closely with God’s story and God’s on-going story in the world. This could also be another opportunity to ground stewardship in the sense that this is God’s work, for us that we could never earn. And it’s our response then that is our stewardship, “Lord, to whom can we go?”
If you need one more explanation of how Jesus is the Bread of Life, look no further than the very beginning of this week’s gospel story. Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 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 6:56-58, NRSV). Jesus is reminding them of the wisdom he has shared which we read in weeks prior from John 6. Our generous God offers us the Bread of Life, abundant life in God in Christ.
Now after the long teaching or preaching that Jesus engages in this subject, he gets feedback from the crowd of disciples. It’s feedback that isn’t that uncommon when talking about stewardship or even finances in the church. We read, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?‘” (John 6:60, NRSV). I suspect that if you have preached on stewardship in the past, you may have received such a response. How did you respond to it? I would suggest admitting that talking about stewardship, money, finances, wealth, etc., is hard, but it’s imperative to our faith life. If we don’t talk about something, if we don’t work through the potentially hard things, they are given power and when given power, that can then create a wedge and barrier in our relationship with God.
Jesus isn’t quite as pastoral in his reply. In fact, he almost comes off as not caring about anyone’s complaints, concerns, or questions. (I suspect a pastor or preacher who might try this approach in a congregation would not last long in that congregation.) Jesus replies to the complaints about the difficult teaching by saying, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe” (John 6:61-64, NRSV).
Boiling this down, in a stewardship sense this is a reminder that this is God’s work. We couldn’t do any of this- we can’t save ourselves, and God comes to us (not the other way around). Or as Jesus says, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father” (John 6:65, NRSV). Any or all of these pieces from the gospel could make for a good stewardship sermon.
However, if you are looking to preach on a different text, I might suggest Psalm 34 or Joshua 24 this week.
The psalmist reminds us of our relationship with God, and that God is with us, near us, and for us. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:17-18, NRSV). Further, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22, NRSV). These are more reminders of God’s work for us. They are reminders of God’s promises and presence. And in that sense, this may be a good text to dwell in, in thinking about our stewardship as it flows out of our relationship with God, and in response to all of God’s generosity- that which God has done, continues to do, and promises to do, for us.
In terms of relationship with God, Joshua 24 is filled with some of the most famous scripture verses of a person and people accepting the promise and presence of God, and confessing and declaring that they will serve as part of God’s work in the world. Joshua says, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). This is such a famous verse, there are door clings made with these words (or other translations of these words). In fact, we even have one next to our door in our home.
Joshua tells the story of why he is serving the Lord, and invites the people to do the same. In response to Joshua the people said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:14-18, NRSV).
The people do in fact follow Joshua’s invitation. And in doing so, they tell the story of why they are doing it- why they are serving and following the Lord. What would our story of faith that grounds our identity as stewards and disciples look, sound, and feel like? How might we connect it to God’s promises for us? To our baptisms? Perhaps thinking about this might make for a powerful stewardship sermon this week in your context.
Wherever the Spirit moves you, may God’s love, promise, and presence be with you and made known through you.
Sunday August 26, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Stewardship/Generosity (Week 2)
Focus Passage: Mark 10:17-31
Accompanying Text: Psalm 51:10-12
This fun stewardship and generosity theme continues this week. Last week we had some famous wisdom from the Sermon on the Mount from Jesus about wealth and treasures, and our relationship with God. This week, we dwell in the famous story of the young man or lawyer (depending on the gospel version) who asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17, NRSV).
What a loaded question. Jesus at first takes the easy way out. He tries to sidetrack the conversation by responding to being called “Good,” and then runs through the commandments. The man says he has kept them all. And to this, Jesus looked at the man, loved him, and said, “‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.'” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:21-22, NRSV).
This is similar to last week’s lesson, in that Jesus is offering warnings and wisdom here about how money, wealth, and stuff can get in the way of our relationship with God. Jesus says to the disciples, “‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God'” (Mark 10:23-25, NRSV). Add in the imagery of a camel and a needle, and it seems pretty clear that this is going to be hard.
But in terms of stewardship, there is an opportunity here to be reminded that only God can do the work of salvation. So when the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26), Jesus responds, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27, NRSV). If we are able to give up our human sense of control, this is very much good news. It’s not up to us. Thanks be to God for that.
But Peter gives a reply we might all give to such a statement, especially if anxious and wanting to know clear next steps. “Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28, NRSV). But Jesus doesn’t allow Peter to continue. He interjects.
To this Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:29-31, NRSV). This lesson ends with Jesus speaking of the great reversal to come.
In terms of stewardship, this is a good week to ponder about God’s work, our resources which God has entrusted to us, and to think about our relationship to our resources and to God. Are our priorities in the right order? Or do we need to alter course some how.
If so, the accompanying psalm might be helpful. Psalm 51:10-12 are words famous for being an offertory response in worship, and they are also important words for reorienting ourselves and calling on God to reorient us. Changing our thoughts, hearts, will, and directions so that we are again doing God’s work, and being bearers of Gods love. The psalmist sings, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12, NRSV).
It’s week two of a three week focus on stewardship in the Narrative Lectionary. Obviously, there are tons of possibilities for stewardship with this lesson. May preaching on it, and wrestling with it, inspire and challenge, and may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you.