Preaching on Stewardship- October 7, 2018

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 October 7, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 27- Year B)
First Lesson: Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Second Lesson: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Gospel of Mark 10:2-16

I am preaching this week on these readings, and I have to admit, as unusual as it is when I share these nuggets, I am not sure yet which text(s) I am going to focus on. The gospel lesson is a rich one, but it’s also a hard one from Mark 10. It starts with thoughts on relationships, divorce, and adultery. These are realities, pain, and even sins that are part of every community and family in some way. It’s important to think about them. But in terms of stewardship, I am not sure that that portion of the story would call me.

You could think about how we steward relationships with one another, intimate or otherwise and that could be valuable. It could also be timely to think about stewarding relationships that are broken, or where one (or more) in the relationship has been hurt, harassed, abused or worse. Given the politics and Supreme Court nominations process playing out in the United States, maybe this is an important text for thinking about how we treat one another, no matter a difference of stature, position, gender, orientation, experience, education, etc. 

A sign in the sacristy that greeted me this past Sunday at Immanuel “State Line” Lutheran Church in Wymore, Nebraska. I think this offers some wisdom worth pondering about the nature of welcome and love that we are called to share as stewards. 

If the gospel lesson is where I am called to focus this week, then it will probably be towards the last portion of the story. Jesus says indignantly to the disciples who still don’t get it this week, “‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:14-16, NRSV).

How do we welcome all people in our community? How do we steward welcome? How do we receive people, as small as they might be, in relationship with us? Do we help them “come and see that the Lord is good?” Or, do we put them in groups of like ages, send them out away from worship to a Children’s time, have them sit in a nursery or cry room? Do we let them come when they want to come, to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and receive the sacrament? Or, do we require them to “learn” and check some boxes first?

I admit I am probably letting my bias show here. But our answers to any of these questions might well point to how we respond to Jesus’ instruction for us to “let the little children come.” Instead, I think it might be far more important for stewardship to wonder about what might we learn from the little children about who God is, and what the Kingdom of God is that we are all called to be a part of, in God’s work and in the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in the world? 

If the gospel is not calling you to ponder stewardship, I have good news. You could make the case that all of the four regular texts in the revised common lectionary might have some wisdom or insight for stewardship. Of course, the downside to this, is that it might increase one’s indecision (like mine), and the need for even more sitting, wrestling, discerning, and conversation with God to sense where God might be calling us to go, or what God might be calling you to consider in your context this week.

The reading from Genesis offers a couple possibilities for stewardship reflection.

We read, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field…” (Genesis 2:19-20, NRSV).

In reading this story we could consider how we are entrusted with God’s work, as a co-worker, or co-creator with God like Terence Fretheim often describes. For in this story, God entrusts the work of naming the creatures to Adam. You could also consider how we are entrusted to care for all of God’s creation, especially in this story, in terms of how we steward the environment, nature, natural resources, etc. Maybe either of these nuggets would be timely for reflection in your context.

Psalm 8 ties well into the reading from Genesis, building off these two themes and helping think even more how we are called to steward the environment, but also how God entrusts us with work as a co-worker or co-creator with God. As the psalmist proclaims, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…” (Psalm 8:3-6, NRSV).

Finally, I am grateful at least that the New Testament lesson no longer comes from James this week. Instead, we find ourselves with a reading from early in Hebrews. I especially appreciate the first portion which is quoted and sung in the usual “Matins” or “Morning Prayer” liturgy. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NRSV). This is a reminder about God’s presence and promise. It’s good news, that God comes to us as the Son, speaking, leading, and sharing God’s love and story for the sake of all God’s creation and children. And really, in terms of stewardship this is a good reminder about what matters, and why we do what we do as stewards and disciples.

All in all, there are countless possibilities for thinking about stewardship this week. I wonder where there Spirit might move or lead you? I wonder, where the Spirit will lead me? Wherever that might be, may God’s love, promise, and presence be made real for you and through you.

Sunday October 7, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 5)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Covenant and Commandments
Focus Passage: Exodus 19:3-7, 20:1-17
Gospel Verse: Matthew 5:17

The Narrative jumps ahead this week from the rescue out of Egypt, to the grumbling and journeying of the forty years in the wilderness, and especially in the gift of the law and commandments as a a reminder of the Covenant. There are numerous possibilities for thinking about stewardship in this.

My first reaction is a reminder that many of your contexts may have had a month-long focus over the summer on the 10 Commandments. If you did use that particular focus, perhaps this week could either be a chance to summarize some of that learning and wondering from the summer, or, perhaps a chance to focus instead more on the covenant and less on the commandments.

To that end, I think I might sit for a bit and dwell in God’s word to Moses. God says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites'” (Exodus 19:4-6, NRSV). There’s a lot of stewardship wisdom in this.

For Christians, baptism is both a sacrament and a reminder of the covenant and promises that God makes with God’s people. (This is a beautiful image of this in a stained glass window at Immanuel “State line” Lutheran in Wymore, Nebraska).

First, there is the reiteration of the covenant and promise between God and God’s people. God goes even further in this though reminding about God’s saving work, as in being borne on eagles’ wings, and also the claim that the people Israel “shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples…” This is an important claim, and speaks to the depth of the relationship God wants and calls God’s people too.

Second, God reminds that “the whole earth is mine,” meaning that all the earth and all that is in it, is God’s. It’s a theme repeated in Psalm 24:1-3, and it’s one that correlates to the central claim of stewardship that all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s. And when we remember this, the rest falls into place. We’re not stewards for ourselves, rather, we are stewards of all that God entrusts to our care to manage, steward, and use to serve our neighbors and also to live abundantly.

Exodus 20 builds on this theme, especially on the preface before the commandments. God makes clear what the relationship looks like, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3, NRSV). God is connecting the people again to the larger narrative of God’s story, and the people’s part and place in it, as part of God’s on-going story. Because of the covenant promises, God will be with God’s people, saving them, loving them, and for them. Stewardship then is our shared response to this work, gift, and promise that God makes for us. 

From here, the commandments are laid out. You could certainly focus on them, and connect them to stewardship. A couple points in particular. Within this is the justification for rest and sabbath, and one could argue self-care. God needs it, and so do we. It’s a vital part of our stewardship. We’re all much better at doing work and God’s work in the world, when we care for ourselves by taking some time to rest, breathe, and recharge. Without this time, we burnout and more harm is often caused than good.

To this end, we read, “But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:10-11, NRSV).

Another point within this section of the narrative is that the commandments and law are given to us, so that life may go well for us. Put another way, so that we might live abundantly. So when we hear the words, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, NRSV), we remember the second half of this verse, do this and obey this so that it may go well, and that “your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Further, there is the reminder and claim that our home, our land, all that we have, is not really ours, but it certainly has been entrusted to us by God, if not given to us. How do we respond to this great gift of love?

This week’s story, is connected with Matthew 5:17. Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17, NRSV). In fulfilling the law, Jesus is offering deeply meaningful and abundant life. It’s what’s at the point of the law, like in Exodus 20:12 above, so that life may go well and “your days may be long.” This is so for us individually, but for all of God’s people, whom we are called into relationships, and created to be in relationships with one another, just as we are with God as affirmed in the covenant and related promises.

Thinking about stewardship then, should be pretty easy. The challenge with this story, might be discerning where regarding stewardship to focus and dwell. Wherever that might be this week, may God’s covenant and promise of love, grace, and relationship be reminded to you, made real for you, and be shared and made known through you.

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