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 14, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 28- Year B)
First Lesson: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Second Lesson: Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel of Mark 10:17-31
Oh what a week to preach on stewardship! This week’s gospel story is a “go-to” for thinking about stewardship in my opinion. It speaks to a life that we are all called to, and is deeply meaningful as our walk together, and in our growth as stewards and disciples. And the story itself starts off with a rather straight forward question, at least it would seem. We read, “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Mark 10:17, NRSV).
Oh people. People, people, people… expecting easy and straight forward answers from Jesus. Yeah, that doesn’t happen all the time. In response to this question, Jesus rather rhetorically asks about the commandments. The man says he has kept them since birth. And then sizing up the well meaning man, Jesus took a long loving look and said this,
“‘‘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).
I suspect we all have more possessions than the man in this story. I mean, when you look at average “wealth” figures in the world, the majority of the people living in the United States fall in the top 1-5% of the world’s wealthiest people. So, like it or not, this is a very real message to all of us.
Jesus isn’t done though. “Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Mark 10:23, NRSV). The disciples are confused. They offer, “but… but…but,” blank stares, hands in the air, confusion, exasperation… I think you could picture the scene pretty well. We’d all probably fit right in, and in someways perhaps it’s not all that different to the nightmares some pastors have about what might happen if they preached about stewardship and money in their congregation.
Jesus isn’t going to let any of us off the hook today though. He says, “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.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible’” (Mark 10:25-27, NRSV).
Believe it or not, this is good news. We can’t save ourselves. We never could. We could never earn God’s love, grace, or promise and gift of life. That’s just it. It’s a pure gift. It’s impossible for us. But for God, of course, it’s possible. And it’s God’s work for us.
The point of this story is not about selling or giving, or how much or little a person has, in itself. Money and wealth are just tools or means to an end on the surface. The problems come when they become ends to themselves, and the goal of which is to have “more, more, more” and to hoard it. For when that happens, money, wealth, and possessions become a god. They get in the way of our relationship with God and our neighbors. They aren’t being used to do God’s work. When this happens, we forget that it’s not our wealth anyway, it’s God’s. We start thinking it’s “mine, mine, mine.” But of course, it’s not! God has entrusted it to our care, to use, manage and steward. To live abundantly, but also to do God’s work- caring for our neighbor. Or as Jesus tells the man today, to go and care “for the poor.”
There’s a reason that Jesus talks about money, wealth, and possessions in the gospels as much as he does. He does so, because he knows how hard it is to live life with these things, and stay in relationship with God. They can easily become means by which we find meaning and purpose, and not God. They can easily become the way we measure our success in life. And suddenly then, they are no longer just things entrusted by God to us to live abundantly and to care for our neighbor. Suddenly we have anxiety about not having enough.
Over time we start to think we don’t have enough to help somebody out in their time of need. It can be a slippery slope, but one that I think we can all imagine and know that in the worst moments of our life, we have all experienced in someway. But thankfully today, Jesus offers a corrective. Reminding us, we can’t do this life giving and life saving work ourselves. Only God can do that. But God does entrust to us what we have, and so it does matter for the sake of our neighbor, because God does and wants to be in relationship with us, use us, and calls us to be a part of God’s kingdom building work in the world.
That’s probably more than enough to preach on stewardship this week. But there are even more possibilities. The gospel story ends with the reiteration of the great reversal to come with God. “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:31, NRSV). What might this mean for our stewardship? For our communities? For our congregations?
If the gospel isn’t prophetic enough for you, there is always Amos. And boy, it’s hard not to feel convicted and the need to confess our short-sightedness in reading this week’s story from Amos. “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate” (Amos 5:11-12, NRSV).
The good news comes later in this story. But I think structuring your confession and forgiveness or prayers around this, might be important, especially given your context and what it may seem is happening in the world around us right now that we are a part of. Face it, as sinners, we’re broken. And as stewards and disciples, we certainly miss the mark often in caring for our neighbor, and not heeding Jesus’ call to give to the poor, to give up what gets in the way of our relationship with God, and to come, see, and follow.
Even with these hard words, Amos offers some solace, hope, and the covenantal reminder that God is with us. Amos exhorts, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14-15, NRSV).
Psalm 90 always has some stewardship nuggets to consider. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14, NRSV). Part of stewardship is giving thanks, responding to all that God has done in gratitude and joy. And then being caught up in that gratitude and joy, that we do go out and serve our neighbor. It’s not something built in shame or guilt. In the gospel story this week, the young man goes away sad. But the thing is, he’s missing the point perhaps. He’s been told good news. But it sounds like hard and terrible news, because he, like most every person, wants to be able “to do it.” We want to control things. We want to be able to do enough to earn it. But God doesn’t work like this.
A final word on Psalm 90. Verse 17 deserves a prosperity gospel proof text alert. Be wary of using or preaching on this verse, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:17, NRSV). It’s not a problem verse by itself, but questionable theological and biblical interpretation could quickly lead here. The psalmist is asking for God’s help, and that’s great. There’s no guarantee that God will make them prosperous and successful in the ways that they might imagine would be to prosper or succeed. Our human connotations of these ideas are very different than those of God’s- where all are welcome, loved, and claimed as heirs, with places around the table as Children of God.
I told you, what a week to preach on stewardship. Wherever you might feel led, may God’s love and abundance challenge and comfort you, and may God’s promises and call to follow and do likewise be shared to you and through you.
Sunday October 14, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 6)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Joshua Renews the Covenant
Focus Passage: Joshua 24:1-15 [16-26]
Gospel Verse: Matthew 4:8-10
Week 6 in the Narrative Lectionary means that we’re out of the Pentateuch already. We find ourselves today in Joshua, with a chance to revisit the narrative that we’ve experienced over the past month. We read, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors…” (Joshua 24:2, NRSV). From here, there is a recounting of the covenant and the ancestors that have come before the people Israel. Through this story, it’s clear that the people are part of an on-going story of God’s work and call. But that the people themselves find themselves in a place that they need to remember yet again God’s promises, and their identity as God’s people.
In terms of stewardship, this would be a great week to think about story. Because without telling and recounting and remembering the story, there is no reason for us to be stewards of anything. Then again, we really wouldn’t know then too “why we do what we do.” And if we can’t answer that question as the People of God, we might have a problem. Or at the very least, a chance to reorient and change, give up things that don’t matter, and again focus on what it is or might be that God is calling us to dwell in, focus on, and live abundantly with.
In this story, we are reminded again of God’s saving work for God’s people, as the rescue at the sea is recounted. “When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness for a long time” (Joshua 24:6-7, NRSV).
There is another interesting stewardship nugget worth some attention in this story. There’s a reminder that what we have, is not our’s. What we use, is not something that we have earned or have complete control over. Rather, there’s a reminder that God has done it all, and that everything is God’s, which God entrusts to us so that we might live abundantly, but also care for our neighbors.
We read, “I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:12-13, NRSV). The land and the food, are gifts God has entrusted to God’s people. These are things of God, and not solely dependent or made possible by people. If it weren’t for God, God’s people wouldn’t have the food to eat, nor the land to call home.
The main story for this week’s narrative lesson concludes with the famous words, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15, NRSV). Joshua is calling all the people to reaffirm their covenant promises as God’s people. It’s not a decision theology type thing, but rather a moment of reaffirmation of promises made to and with God. It’s an opportunity to accept again the life of being a Child of God, and to commit to grow as a disciple and steward.
If the image helps, perhaps it’s kind of like an affirmation of baptism (or confirmation), or a re-affirmation of baptism done by the assembly after a while of angst and challenge, to recommit to each other that we are all God’s people. And by being God’s people, we make promises to God and to one another. And this matters for why we do what we do, and for how we live as stewards and disciples together.
Wherever this story takes you, may God’s call to you as a Child of God be re-affirmed yet again, and may God’s love and promises be reminded to you and through you this week.