Preaching on Stewardship- November 4, 2018

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Usually every Monday I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. Because of schedule demands, this week is a bit different. Realizing it’s Wednesday (Reformation Day and Halloween) and many of you preachers are already working on your sermon, this may be a little late. But if useful, I am going to offer just a few short stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings for All Saints Sunday, as well as the readings appointed for this weekend by the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary:

Sunday November 4, 2018: All Saints Sunday (Year B)
First Lesson: Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Second Lesson: Revelation 21:1-6a
Gospel of John 11:32-44

Somewhere Chick Lane has to be smiling. Year B in the revised common lectionary for All Saints includes Psalm 24, which starts with perhaps the most important biblical summary of what stewardship involves, and it’s one where Chick almost always quotes in conversations, writing, and presentations. I have come to love it just as much as he does. It begins, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2, NRSV). Understanding this is essential for stewardship, because when framed this way, we remember that all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s. When remembering this, everything is reoriented and ordered.

From Psalm 24’s understanding of stewardship and answer to the question of “Who is the King of Glory?” we move to the gospel story from John 11 about Jesus raising Lazarus. Some translations of this story include the favorite memory verse of confirmands for generations, a verse of only two words, “Jesus wept,” though in the NRSV it is translated as, “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35, NRSV). No matter the translation this assertion is important for understanding the depth of Jesus’ relationship with this man and his sisters, but also the depth for which Jesus cares about God’s people.

As the story goes, “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone” (John 11:39-41, NRSV). This is going to be a special day. God is at work, just as God is at work for all of God’s people, offering resurrection and life abundant, for all God’s saints. 

saints
“For All the Saints”

Now for the rest of the story. Jesus tells God, “‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:42-44, NRSV). What an image. Only God could do this, and God does this. It’s a central part of God’s story of offering life, and as stewards this is a story of God for us- of what God will do for us.

The other readings for All Saints also help describe God’s work and promises for us, which our stewardship is our response to, and living in light of. From Isaiah we read, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6, NRSV). But wait, there’s more. God will also “swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8, NRSV).

The second lesson from Revelation is the famous passage often quoted in funerals. We read that, “‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life'” (Revelation 21:4-6, NRSV).

These are promises of God for God’s beloved. This is also a declaration that, God is “making all things new.” This is what God does, bringing life out of death. Turning the world and its expectations on their head, beating death at its own game, once and for all. And this is at the heart of the festival that is All Saints.

For those we celebrate and give thanks for who have gone before us, for all of us simultaneously saint and sinner, we remember that in God in Christ we are all part of the One Body, part of the community of saints that have gone before us, that gather with us now, and will come after us. We celebrate and remember that all of us are indeed God’s church together, and that is a stewardship story to tell- a story of legacy of those who have gone before us, and the on-going work of God in the world in, around, and through us, and most certainly for us. 

Sunday November 4, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 31- Year B)
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Second Lesson: Hebrews 9:11-14
Gospel of Mark 12:28-34

If not using the appointed texts for All Saints, do not fear. There are some good insights for stewardship in the other RCL readings too. This week’s selection includes a number of stories and articulations of the law and the commandments. To that end, let’s start with Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 6 articulates the purpose and hope for the law beautifully. We read that the point of following the law is “so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments… so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you” (Deuteronomy 6:2-3, NRSV). The hope is “so that it may go well with you…” If wondering why we we have the law, this is an important insight to remember.

The gospel story that this story sets up comes from Mark, and it is an answer to the question of law and commandments. I love this story, because it is again the summation of the law, and includes the golden rule. But at the heart of it, is a hope for what right relationship looks like for one with God, neighbor, and self. This has tons of implications for stewardship.

We read, “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31, NRSV). Here’s Jesus, just about as plain as ever making things clear and leaving little to doubt about the meaning.

The scribe who answered Jesus’ question appreciated his answer. As we read, “Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question” (Mark 12:32-24, NRSV).

An understanding like this of relationship, points to the hope of what the kingdom of God might look like, as we are in relationship with God and each other. As stewards, how do we embody this? How do we love our neighbor? Do we put limits on our neighbor love, or do we live out God’s commandment to us to love our neighbor as ourself?

These are important and timely questions, especially given the rise in hate, oppression, polarization, division, and the lies of scarcity and fear being used to try and justify nonsensical walls and proposed authoritarian law changes. Maybe I’m letting my bias show here, but I don’t see anyway one can reconcile a fair understanding of this gospel story with the example of leadership we see in government at this moment, especially one which is continually attempted to be justified by some faith leaders.

On this All Saints weekend, I wonder what might we learn from the saints who have departed us recently and their stories of how they served and loved God and their neighbors? And what might they offer as an example for us in living out Christ’s summation of the law for us as stewards and disciples today?

Sunday November 4, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 9)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Elisha Heals Naaman
Focus Passages: 2 Kings 5:1-15a
Gospel Verse: Matthew 8:2-3

For All Saints in the Narrative Lectionary this year, we come to the story of Elisha healing Naaman. Naaman at first is reluctant, and expects perhaps a bigger show and sign. But given the words of his servants, he is encouraged to follow the seemingly simple and mundane instructions to be healed. In some ways perhaps this is another example of God using the ordinary to do the extraordinary, not all that dissimilar to the saints we remember who have gone before us, ordinary human beings like us who God has used to do God’s extraordinary and awe-inspiring work. (Believing God uses all of us as God’s children, simultaneously saint and sinner, heirs of the promise.)

In the story we read, “But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:13-14, NRSV).

This is yet another story of God at work in the world, doing that which God does, bringing healing and life, in the place of death and despair. It’s a resurrection story of sorts, a perfect reading for this day that we remember those who have claimed the promise, and  those living, growing, and continuing to serve as saints and stewards like us and around us in our midst.

One of the facets of All Saints and stewardship is telling the story of God, and pointing to what God has done for us. Naaman does just this at the end of this story. “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant’” (2 Kings 5:15, NRSV). Naaman is declaring what God has done, and makes the claim “that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” That’s quite the declaration, and it matters. Are we so bold to declare this, more than just in our recitation of the creeds in worship once a week? 

This great story is paired with a healing story of Jesus about a leper. We read, and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:2-3, NRSV). This is yet another example of Jesus bringing healing and life out of despair and death. It’s a common theme in the narrative of God’s story, and points to God’s hope and promise for us and all of God’s children.

How do we share in this story? How do we steward it? How do we steward the good news of this promise, and how have the saints who have gone before us pointed to this and lived as stewards of it?

No matter where any of these stories in any of these lectionaries take you this week, may God’s promises for you be reminded to you, and be made clear through you this week. Rest assured that you are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a saint among a multitude of saints, standing, resting, rejoicing, worshiping, and serving in the promise of God for you and for me. 

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