Preaching on Stewardship- Sunday September 16, 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 September 16, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 24- Year B)
First Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-9
Second Lesson: James 3:1-12
Gospel of Mark 8:27-38

At the heart of this week’s gospel lesson, there is a question. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27, NRSV).  This might seem a bit passive, and more of a conversation opener. And from here, Jesus goes deeper. “He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8:29-30, NRSV).

Who do you say that I am? If preaching on the revised common lectionary this week, I think this would be the question for me from which thinking about stewardship and discipleship would follow. Do we answer this question? Or do we instead take Jesus all too seriously when he orders the disciples “not to tell anyone about him?”

Our answer to this question shapes who we are. It explains why we gather for worship, and call ourselves Christians. It guides our daily lives, vocations, identities as stewards and disciples, and even Children of God. In terms of stewardship, this is at the core of the story of who we are as faith communities and the church. If we can’t or don’t answer this question, we aren’t sharing the story. We aren’t telling the story. We aren’t inviting others into God in Christ’s love for all. We likely aren’t doing the kingdom building work that God calls us to and entrusts us with resources to do, either.

When we don’t take this question seriously, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the little things or the weeds, and miss the bigger picture. In the life of ministry and stewardship, this is when we get so focused on things like maintaining a building or a budget, that we forget to what end both exist. A building and budget are great, but they aren’t the end-all be-all in themselves. They are means to doing God’s work. When we forget this, Jesus perhaps rebukes us, just like he rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:32-33, NRSV).

Of course, I wouldn’t quote this verse toward a congregation. I can’t imagine how, under any circumstance, this would go well. But at the same time, with today’s question in mind, “Who do you say that I am?,” we need to admit that our answer to this question matters because it shapes who we are. We’re a people of the cross, and that is a beautiful thing. But it’s also a hard and challenging life. 

Jesus says to the crowd and the disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”  (Mark 8:34-35, NRSV). To take up one’s cross and follow is a hard thing. It means giving up something, and usually many somethings. It’s a wonderful thing, in that this life as a disciple and steward is abundant and deeply meaningful. But to think it’s one without challenges, is to totally forget the fact that a cross is/was involved.

The closing question in the gospel story this week might even be another important one for stewardship. Jesus says, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mark 8:36-37, NRSV). Jesus is offering a juxtaposition of life apart from God and God’s love, one based on our own merit; versus life with God as Children of God and recipients and heirs of the promise. Of course we could never earn our life, and promised abundant and eternal life. That’s a gift and God’s work done once and for all through Christ on the cross. And maybe this is a reminder we need to hear. We can’t do this. But God can, and only God can, for us.

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Who might these kids, gathered for a recent Children’s Sermon in worship at Salem Lutheran Church, say that Jesus is?

So back to our starting question, “Who do you say that I am?” How might we answer that, grateful and thankful for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us? That answer might well hit at who we are as the people of God, and our unique gifts, perspectives, and capacities as faith communities. (Who knows, maybe it even hits at the vision or mission of your congregation?) No matter the direction that leads, it’s helpful reflection for September and the early weeks of the ministry program year.

If looking for a little stewardship beyond the gospel, I would suggest Psalm 116. The psalmist sings, “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:5-9, NRSV). This is a good summation again of God’s work and promises for us. And maybe it even helps offer another possible answer to Jesus’ question of “Who do you say that I am?”

In whatever way you might answer Jesus’ questions this week, may God’s love and promise, as well as the abundant, meaningful and challenging life of being the people of the cross together, be made real to you and through you.

Sunday September 16, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Call of Abraham
Focus Passage: Genesis 12:1-9
Gospel Verse: Matthew 28:19-20

From God’s covenant with Noah last week, we turn to God’s call and promises to Abraham this week. We start with the word, “Go.” It’s not like “Go” on the monopoly board, it’s more like the “go,” to start the most epic and meaningful life as a Child of God. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you'” (Genesis 12:1, NRSV). Maybe think of it like when a person is baptized, they are baptized in the promises of God, but they are also given a “Go” of sorts, to live and grow as a disciple and steward.

This isn’t so different for Abraham. Because in the act of receiving God’s call, and then going, Abraham receives more blessing and promise than he could ever hope for or imagine. God says, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3, NRSV). But wait, there’s more.

We read a bit later in the story, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb” (Genesis 12:7-9, NRSV).

These blessings of God are hard to ignore. This naming of God is too. All of this is new, and would shape the people of Israel, but not only Israel. In terms of stewardship, Abraham is the perfect example of a Biblical figure to think about in terms of legacy. You might remember the Sunday School song, “Father Abraham had many sons…” This father figure of sorts, is the patriarch of at least three different faiths, all of whom claim Abraham as someone central to their story- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. That says something powerful about legacy that the majority of the people on Earth could trace their story (and not just their faith story) back to Abraham, at least in some way.

Though we don’t read it in today’s story, in addition to the promise of land and legacy, God blesses Abraham with the knowledge that his descendants will be as numerous and abundant as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV). God will also later bless Abraham with the birth of his own child (two actually- Ishmael and Isaac) late in life, long past usual child bearing age (as in Genesis 16 & 17). From these promises and blessings, we as the people of God can all find ourselves as part of God’s story.

This story of Abraham is a story in part about who we are as God’s people. It’s also a story of being a people “on the go.” We are called and gathered together for worship. We are filled, fed, reminded of God’s love, and challenged with the Word, Sacraments, and God’s promises. And we are then told to go out, and are sent with God. 

Speaking of being sent, it connects well with the appointed gospel verse from Matthew 28 this week. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV).

We’re a people on the go. Just as Abraham was, and like the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, where we are all sent with a big “Go” from Jesus to baptize and teach, with a reminder that God is most certainly with us, every step of the way always. This is a promise that was true for Noah and Abraham before us, and has been true throughout all of God’s story- both written in the books of the Bible, and as on-going story throughout history and our lives today. It’s a promise that is always a part of God’s call to “go.”

These promises and this call that was given to Abraham, is not dissimilar to one that we all receive in baptism. It’s a call to a deep life of stewardship and discipleship. It’s a call to a life of challenge and meaning, and abundant life in God. For this life, all we can do, is answer the call to “go,” give thanks to God for it, and trust the promise that God is with us, leading us, supporting us, and loving us, no matter what we might discover and encounter along the way. 

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