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 September 2, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 22)
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Second Lesson: James 1:17-27
Gospel of Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
From five straight weeks with gospel stories from John 6 about how Jesus is the Bread of Life, we move this week back to Mark and a Gospel lesson all about things that are or might be defiled (or not). Maybe it’s the fact that it’s also Labor Day weekend, but to put it bluntly, I don’t think I would have the energy to try and preach on stewardship on this gospel story. So, if you are looking for stewardship nuggets for this week, I would greatly encourage you to consider any of the other lectionary appointed readings.
The first lesson this week might offer an opportunity to think about God’s on-going story, and how we are a part of that. It might also be an opportunity to think about legacy, which is a part of stewardship. We read, “But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NRSV).
The stewardship implications may not be obvious at first, but let me call your attention to the end of this particular verse, “make them known to your children and your children’s children.” We are called to share God’s story. We are called “neither to forget the things that our eyes have seen nor let them slip from our mind…” Some times we take God’s story and God’s promises for granted. This might be a week to reflect on this, especially as we move into/toward the early days of school and congregational program years.
Let me try and offer a different but related question. Why do we do what we do? Because God calls us to, but also because we are called to steward and share for the sake of the world- our children, our neighbors, and strangers. Through doing so, we are a part of God’s work of building up the kingdom. If we don’t tell these stories of how we have seen God at work, whether in the scriptures, or in our own lives, and/or in the lives of our faith communities, how will others know these stories? How will others be made aware of God’s impact on us, God’s people? Certainly God will always find a way (with or without us), but we are called to be a part of this great work as disciples and stewards. Maybe that’s a fitting message for a Labor Day weekend.
This week’s reading from Psalm 15 also has some possibilities for thinking about stewardship. Within this Psalm we read, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue… nor take up a reproach against their neighbors… who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent” (Psalm 15:1-5, NRSV). There are lessons in this for stewardship, leadership, and neighbor love. How do we love our neighbors? How do we treat others? Do we lend with interest? If so, are we just making a profit on another person’s time of need? Any of these or other questions might be worth some consideration.
The second lesson this week comes from James. I know, I know, what many of you Lutherans like me probably think of that. Your eyebrows might bristle, and you might recall Martin Luther calling this particular book, a “book of straw.” Even so, there are some good pieces of wisdom about stewardship in it this week. It begins, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (James 1:17-18, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship this lesson from James is helpful, because it ties generosity to something first that is done and offered by God, not us. That puts things in proper order. This passage goes on then after these verses to think about how we show love to our neighbors, and how our faith life leads to action. If it doesn’t lead to action, (if praying then doesn’t lead us to change and act), then have we really engaged in our faith life as a disciple and steward? There is obviously the risk of running into works righteousness here (and because it’s James). But there is a fair point that needs to be made. Our faith life as disciples and stewards is one that is 24-7. It can’t be compartmentalized. If what we experience in worship, in praying, in reading the scriptures, etc., doesn’t lead us out into our vocations, then are we just going through the motions? What do you think?
I’m not going to answer those last questions this week. But I hope you will wrestle with some of these. I also hope that you feel God’s presence and promise, and share that with all those you meet, and perhaps minister to this week as well.
Sunday September 2, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Stewardship/Generosity (Week 3)
Focus Passage: Luke 12:13-34
Accompanying Text: Psalm 51:15-17
It feels like we just began this wonderful 3-week series on stewardship. Yet, here we are in the third and final week of this focus, before the next year of the Narrative Lectionary begins next week back in Genesis. In terms of stewardship, you can go just about any direction with this rich gospel text from Luke 12, which includes a number of stewardship stories and pieces of wisdom.
We begin with two brothers, whom Jesus some how is involved with and approached to try and get one’s brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus wisely doesn’t engage directly in that request. However, he does use this as an opportunity to teach about the dangers of greed, and the challenges of money and wealth. Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NRSV). When the focus is on the material, one doesn’t see nor understand the depth and importance of the abundance of life which God in Christ offers to us. If the focus is on money, wealth, or an inheritance, what might that mean for one’s relationship with God?
Jesus immediately followed that response up with the “Parable of the Rich Fool.” Within this famous story comes further insights about abundance, and what true abundance means and matters. It is also another story in this three-week stewardship cycle which calls for us to consider if our lives and priorities are in proper order, or not. Jesus explained,
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God” (Luke 12:16-21, NRSV).
Following this, Luke includes the teaching about Jesus in response to worry and anxiety about life. It’s basically the same story that was included in this three-week cycle two weeks ago from Matthew. (See the commentary for that here, as well as a sermon on that focus too.)
If looking for more stewardship ideas, consider the last few verses in this week’s focus. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32, NRSV). This is Good News. God offers, entrusts, and gives the kingdom because of who God is, and because God promises to be with us, because God wants to be with us, and in relationship with us. What might this say about us, and our relationship with God.
And, just when you think you have too many stewardship ideas, Luke tacks on one more piece of wisdom from Jesus regarding treasure in heaven. “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34, NRSV). Again, are things in right order? Is your focus on what matters? Are you hoarding that which God has entrusted for yourself? Or, are you giving or using what you have been entrusted with, to do God’s work of feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, welcoming the outcast, etc.?
Any direction this week will make for an important and powerful stewardship sermon. May God’s love, promises, and challenges be made real for you, and may they be made known through you this week.