Preaching on Stewardship- November 18, 2018

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 18, 2018: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Time after Pentecost- Lectionary 33- Year B)
First Lesson: Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:11-14, [15-18], 19-25
Gospel of Mark 13:1-8

This weekend marks the end of another trip through “Ordinary Time” or the “Time after Pentecost.” It’s the second to last Sunday of the church year, which means as we move to Christ the King Sunday in a week and Advent begins anew the following week, we find ourselves with words from the Prophets, and views in the gospels of the apocalyptic and end times. On the surface, these are not the easiest texts to preach on. And for thinking and preaching on stewardship, they can be even harder. But hopefully some of these ideas might help.

Let’s take the lessons in order this week. The first lesson comes from the prophet Daniel. As a whole, there’s not a lot of stewardship potential here, but there is one nugget. A reminder of the promise of the saving work and salvation that God provides, as we read, “But at that time your people shall be delivered” (Daniel 12:1, NRSV). This is a reminder of God’s presence and saving work for God’s people, and it’s one that is important to cling to, especially in hard, challenging, and uncertain times. This message and reminder is part of our story and God’s story that is central to our stewardship and why we do what we do.

In the midst of the hard times, we find solace and comfort with God’s promises and presence like the Psalmist in Psalm 16. “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:9-11, NRSV). How do we share the good news of this? How do we respond to such promise and presence through our actions, joy, and gratitude to God? 

The second lesson from Hebrews might hold a couple helpful stewardship nuggets as well. First, there is a reminder of what Christ has done for us, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, NRSV).

And then from this reminder, comes a potential description of what one’s response of stewardship, discipleship, and life together might include. As the writer reasons, “and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:21-25, NRSV). Perhaps one or more of the ideas in this description could be a helpful lens for thinking about stewardship in your context?

Finally, in considering the gospel story this week, perhaps think about what changes and will change with God’s reign and the building of God’s kingdom? Put another way, for one example, “no stone will be left on stone” as sung in the hymn, “The Canticle of the Turning.” We read, “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1-3, NRSV).

In this hard apocalyptic and end times description, there is still a call for peace, and assurance of God’s presence and promise amid the hard times. As Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (Mark 13:7-8, NRSV).

These are some tough texts this week. But even so, there are some nuggets that might be useful for thinking about stewardship. And if, feeling called to think about stewardship, my overall take away is this: The life of being a steward and disciple, is not always easy. It’s a challenging life, where we face things that we might not rather have to deal with. But what makes this life abundant, is that through those tough times and in those tough times, God is with us, and God is for us. It’s also a meaningful life, as we serve those in need, and grow as the beloved Children of God called, gathered, and sent in and for the world that God loves. When remembering this, these stories this week perhaps have a different feel.

Sunday November 18, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Year 1- Week 11)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Swords into Plowshares
Focus Passages: Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; then 2:1-4
Gospel Verse: Matthew 5:14

This week’s narrative focus has a very Advent like feel to it, primarily because Isaiah 2 is included with its famous words of turning “swords into plowshares.” It’s a fitting text as we move through the prophets and toward the gospel in the narrative.

The basic overview from “Working Preacher” is that “Assyria threatens Jerusalem and King Hezekiah despairs. Isaiah says the city will be saved and nations will beat swords into plowshares.” In terms of stewardship, though Isaiah 36 and 37 is interesting and important for the story, I think I wouldn’t dig too deep into them for stewardship. Rather, I would probably focus on Isaiah 2.

The prophet proclaims, “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3, NRSV). This situates the message, and the promise of the One who is to come. In terms of stewardship this is both a reminder, and a new lens on our story. Something new is about to happen. God is up to something.

sword into plowshare
Beating the sword into a plowshare, as a beautiful and powerful image and statue outside of the Union Nations.

This something will be a big change. The way things are done, will change. The violence of this world will change. The weapons of this world will be no more. From death will come life. From destruction will come restoration. From despair will come hope. God’s people will change, and respond to God’s love, finally by giving up their sinful ways of violence, division, pain and destruction.

We read the famous words of Isaiah 2:4:

 “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4, NRSV).

These words are taking on a renewed light for me this week, in thinking about the senseless deaths at the hands of the American gun epidemic. Another week, another mass shooting, this time this past week in Thousand Oaks, California touching far too close to home to the Lutheran world and the community of our brothers and sisters of California Lutheran University.

When will enough be enough? The data and research have been clear for years. Yet the trend continues, because we do not act. We seem to be stuck in lethargy and denial. Why? Because we are beholden to the American value of weapons, and some sense that having a gun (without any kind of sensible checks and balances and common sense restrictions) and the Second Amendment is more important than life itself? There’s no defending this nonsense. Doing so, falls flat when thinking about how God calls us to life, and to support the provision of life of all of God’s children.

God calls us to turn from weapons to instruments of peace and provision. From destruction, to tools of harvest and providing for the people’s needs. Again, I am not saying that all guns are bad. Hunting and gathering have long been ways for people to receive their food. But something needs to change, when there are weapons available for anyone, which are not for sport or hunting but rather with the sole intention of being vehicles of death and destruction.

In terms of stewardship, I wonder, how are we bearers of God’s justice and peace for all the earth? How do we steward this message? How do we provide for those in need, and move from destruction to building up the kingdom?

The gospel verse that is paired with this story this week is helpful. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14, NRSV). We are the light of the world, we are told this in baptism, and it is true. God is with us, and sends us forth to serve. How are we doing this? How are we bearing God’s love, and sharing God’s light with all to see? Providing hope in the midst of fear, suffering, and pain? And working to combat the evils, -isms, and violence and destruction of our time?

Hard questions, and important texts all around this week. Sometimes stewardship means facing the tough stuff head-on, because ultimately we know that God has done the real hard work of beating death at its own game for us, already once and for all. May God’s love and presence be with you as you wrestle with these texts, and are called to preach and share a word of challenge and comfort with God’s people this week.

Image Credit: Sword into Plowshare

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