Preaching on Stewardship- November 11, 2018

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Every Monday I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. This week’s nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary are as follows:

Sunday November 11, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 32- Year B)
First Lesson: 1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Second Lesson: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel of Mark 12:38-44

Where has the time gone? We’re well into November now, and only a couple weeks away from a new liturgical year. But before we get there, there are a few more great stories of stewardship to dwell in. This week’s gospel story from Mark is one of them. Let’s take it in its entirety, in order.

The story begins with Jesus teaching. “As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40, NRSV).

To some extent, we’re all hypocrites. Anyone in leadership or authority is rightfully subject to an increased level of scrutiny. It comes with the territory. But if you don’t practice what you preach, if you don’t care for the those God calls you to care for, and to be an example for others in your stewardship and care for your neighbor, woe to you. There will be consequences. And at the very least there will need to be a great deal of confession and forgiveness. We’re all sinners, and fall short. But even acknowledging that, is not a justification for ignoring those in need around us, nor is it justification for injustice, fraud, theft, and the disobeying of the commandments and Jesus’ summation of them, to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Like a good preacher and teacher, Jesus continues by offering a real life object lesson. “He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny” (Mark 12:41-42, NRSV). Sometimes the best practices for discerning congregational health, stewardship, and discipleship can involve sitting off to the side, and watching how people act. You might see something new. An “ah-ha” moment might occur. And maybe, you might just witness God up to something in your midst, like in the giving of a poor widow’s mite. 

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Perhaps this might put this gospel story in a new light for you? Imagine a congregation like in this picture during its “Noisy Offering” time. Some of the kids are putting in coins. Others dollar bills. What might it look like, if they were giving all that they had like the widow? What might it look like if we were putting in all that we had? (Photo from American Lutheran, Adams, Nebraska.)

Jesus “then called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:43-44, NRSV). This is not to say this is a scarcity and abundance distinction. Rather, this is to say that this woman’s priorities are such that God is receiving 100% of what this woman has, because she recognizes God’s power and ability with what she had, but also the reminder from Psalm 24 that all that she is, is in fact God’s, so it’s not even her’s in the first place but what she had been entrusted with. That’s a different mindset than the rich people in this story.

How often can we say that we have put in everything that we have, all that we have to live on, for God?

For a congregation thinking about holistic stewardship, this might be the important and timely question, especially for reflecting on time, talents, and treasure. How might this widow be an example of faithful living and stewardship for us, today? And what might she teach us as an alternate way to live today, as opposed to other examples of power, economics, and consumerism based decision making that we see? How might she be a counter-example to the Christmas shopping commercials which have been in full force for nearly two months now already, and have doubled this past week to replace the void of political ads on the TV airwaves?

Another good stewardship angle might be to think some about this woman. What are her dreams for those two coins? In giving all she has been entrusted with by God back to God, what is driving her? What vision? What might the Holy Spirit be up to in her life?

If looking for some other possible stewardship insights, both Psalm 146 and the story from 1 Kings 17 offer possibilities. The psalmist describes God’s work for all of God’s beloved children. In some ways it’s a deeper and more holistic articulation of what it means to love and serve one’s neighbor. We read, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; he Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Psalm 146:5-9, NRSV).

How do we embody this? Or, in what ways must we confess our shortcomings or complicity in actions and systems that perpetuate these injustices? This is what the stewardship and discipleship life looks like. What might it mean for you and your context?

Finally, in the story from 1 Kings 17, we hear a story of provision and promise. It begins, “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you'” (1 Kings 17:8-9, NRSV). It’s interesting how much the role of a “widow” shows up in three of the four readings this week. But this widow in this story does not disappoint. She abides and serves, providing Elijah with what he needs, but also being a servant of God whom God works through. Even if she might be ostracized by society as a widow, she is very much a servant of God doing God’s work.

“She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:15-16, NRSV). God uses this widow, a great servant and steward much like the widow in the gospel story. If God uses her, how might God work through us bringing food, life, and hope for a hurting and broken world in need? What might this look like in your midst?

Sunday November 11, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 10)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Micah
Focus Passages: Micah 1:3-5; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8
Gospel Verse: Matthew 9:13

This week we turn to the prophet Micah. We all know verse 6:8, but before we get there, there is some back story that needs to be filled in. God has promised that a ruler will come from the city of David, Bethlehem. In terms of the narrative, this is important timing as we turn to the prophets ahead of the season of Advent, and then in the lectionary the move to the gospel story at Christmas with the coming of our Emmanuel.

We read, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace” (Micah 5:2-5, NRSV).

Who might this ruler be? And what will their rule be like? We know the answer to this question, because we know the rest of the story. But in terms of stewardship, we also know that this rule is one of grace, love, provision, hope, mercy, compassion, justice, and forgiveness. That’s not always the kind of leadership and rule the world always sees, and arguably might be lacking some now.

Micah takes up the question of how we are to come before God. Do we come offering anything and everything? Do we give up our own child for God, like Abraham was prepared to with his son Isaac? “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7, NRSV)

Though God might well appreciate such sacrifice, that is not what God desires. God is calling us into relationship. God is calling us to be made awake and aware of our neighbors, and to turn toward them and God, being bearers and stewards of God’s love, hope, mercy, peace, and justice. Micah makes this abundantly clear in the next verse which is arguably the most famous in the whole book of this prophet. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” That could be a great stewardship campaign title. It could also be a terrific congregational mission statement. But most importantly, it describes in one sentence what stewardship and discipleship look like in action. How might this description fit your context? Or how might it offer a different way, or new ideas for how you might be being called to be a part of God’s work in your neighborhood, context, region, etc.?

The paired Gospel verse helps this week reiterate what God hopes for. Jesus says, Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13, NRSV). We are all sinners, and fall short. We all miss the mark. It’s God’s grace that redeems us, and God’s love which calls us back into relationship, reconciles us, and opens us up to our neighbors whom God calls us together with, and entrusts us with all that we need to serve each other. Through us, and through us together, some of God’s work is done for the sake of the world.

How are we doing as bearers of mercy and peace? Or, do we need to confess that we have given into fears, scarcity, and self-centeredness, and need to yet again be turned back outward to the world and our sisters and brothers in Christ?

Wherever these stories might take you, and however you might answer these questions this week, may God’s love and promise be real for you, and may God use you to challenge, comfort, and encourage God’s people to grow deeper as God’s stewards and disciples. 

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