Preaching on Stewardship- September 30, 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 30, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 26- Year B)
First Lesson: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
Second Lesson: James 5:13-20
Gospel of Mark 9:38-50

Doing God’s work is something that is entrusted to all of God’s people. It’s not something reserved for a selected few. And that’s sometimes a hard thing to remember or understand about our lives as disciples and stewards. We all have vocations, regardless of our titles or education or experiences, which call us into relationships with our neighbors and the world. Through us, the Kingdom of God might break in just a bit, as God works through us and with us.

Today’s gospel story may be a reminder of this truth. The disciples can’t quite wrap their heads around it. They come to Jesus saying that some others are doing works in Jesus’ name. They want them to stop. But Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward” (Mark 9:39-41, NRSV).

We do far more good as a church and a people of God together, than we could ever do apart. Yet, sometimes we give into our human nature and think that “I’m better,” or “my congregation is better” than another person or another church. Perhaps Jesus is offering us a reminder to remove our blinders, and rather join and collaborate with our sisters and brothers. Together, with all that we have and all that we are, God’s work can be abundantly done in the world. This is story that always needs to be reminded in the life of the congregation. Think about it, how much joy and meaning would it be for someone to feel, be a part of, and experience that sort of work?

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One of the ways congregations are part of the church together- is by raising up new disciples and stewards. It’s also a way we show welcome, as we put the Word of God in the hands of all of God’s children, welcoming them deeper into the life of being a disciple. (Like shown in this picture from a few weeks ago at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, Nebraska)

As much as we might struggle with that and of working together, there is also a lesson in here about welcome. Woe to anyone who might accidentally, inadvertently, or even intentionally get in the way of another from being in relationship with God. Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42, NRSV). In terms of stewardship, how are we bearers of welcome? And how do we check ourselves, to see if we are helping others, or perhaps doing the exact opposite? And if so, how do we confess our shortcomings and course correct? 

Perhaps the verse though that has me thinking about stewardship most in this week’s gospel story, is verse 50. Jesus says, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50, NRSV). Have you ever heard the phrase she or he is really a “salt of the earth” person? Well, if so, it probably comes from this kind of verse. It’s an expression I have heard a whole lot more living in Nebraska, than anywhere else. So maybe it relates better to some contexts than others.

In terms of stewardship and discipleship though, what does it mean to have salt in ourselves? What might this look like? Jesus helps with the inclusion of being “at peace with one another.” So that’s one mark. Based on the other components of this story, you could probably add- living and growing as a steward and disciple; serving your neighbor and being a part of God’s work; and also helping and not hindering others to grow in their relationship with God. I wonder, do we have salt as disciples and stewards? Or have we lost our saltiness? Perhaps wrestling with these questions might make for a vulnerable and powerful sermon this week.

If looking for more stewardship nuggets, I might also look at Psalm 19. Within it, we find familiar words like, “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10, NRSV). If your context is so focused on the money and wealth needs, perhaps a reminder about what really matters might be helpful. And, lest we start to think our preaching and ministry is more about us than God, the psalmist reminds us again, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NRSV).

Wherever the Spirit might move you this week, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you.

Sunday September 30, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 4)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Rescue at the Sea
Focus Passage: Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29
Gospel Verse: Matthew 2:13-15

It’s the end of September, and we are already out of Genesis in the Narrative Lectionary. We find ourselves this week with the people of Israel in their escape from Egypt. They are facing what they fear is certain doom in the desert or at the edge of the Red Sea. But just as they might succumb to human fear, God does what God does. God shows up, and rescues God’s people.

We read, “But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still’” (Exodus 14:13-14, NRSV).

Do not be afraid.” These four words are some of the most uttered and important ones in all of scripture. And in terms of stewardship, they are a reminder, that God is most certainly with us. That’s a promise that God has made generation after generation- to Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and now to and through Moses.

We all know how this story goes, with the parting of the sea. It’s a great day for the people Israel. Not so much for those chasing after them. We read, “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:28-29, NRSV).

In terms of stewardship this week, I think it would be impossible not to speak again about God’s work and promises for God’s people. There may also be a tendency to connect this to the promise that God provides, and God provides abundantly. These would be excellent stewardship reflections for peaching.

Please just don’t try and make the theologically flawed leap that God’s saving work here is about God’s people just praying enough or having enough faith. After all, the people were getting antsy, and lamenting to Moses that they had been freed just to die in the desert. They were not perfect in faith and composure here. (They will complain like this again many times over their forty years in the wilderness to come). No, God’s work is pure grace and gift here, because God has made a covenant with God’s people, and God has not forgotten them and God’s promise to them and for them.

This is Good News for us, because it’s not about how good we are as stewards and disciples, and how much faith we may or may not have. No, it’s about God’s deep and abiding love and grace for us, and the fact that God is with us. 

The gospel verse from Matthew 2 that is paired with the story this week is helpful too. It’s part of the Christmas story, the part that is often overlooked. When the Holy Family flees Herod to Egypt. We overlook it perhaps because if read in worship traditionally, it often falls on the “low attendance” Sunday of the church year, right at the end of December or beginning of January.

“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son'” (Matthew 2:13-15, NRSV).

The reminder that God is with us and of God’s covenant for us, is made most clear for us through Jesus. So, this pairing of God’s work of salvation at the sea and the fleeing of the Holy Family to Egypt, is a reminder about what is at the heart of our identity as stewards and disciples. We are God’s people. God has claimed us. And that matters, because as God claims us, as we are marked and sealed as Children of God, not only do we make promises, God promises too. And because of those promises, we have the opportunity to grow and live abundant and meaningful lives as stewards and disciples.

Wherever God’s story calls you, may God’s promises be made known afresh to you and through you this week.

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