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:
Happy New Year! We begin the third year of the three-year lectionary cycle this week, returning to the Gospel of Luke. We’ll get to that in a moment. With the start of the new year, means that Advent is once again upon us. In terms of stewardship, there are a number of themes you might focus on. But as I prepare this year, I am going to lean on hope. Hope for God’s promises fulfilled. Hope for God’s presence. Hope for restoration, reconciliation, welcome, and justice in the midst of a world that seems bent borders, walls, and divisions. Hope for peace.
For me, stewardship rests heavily on hope. Because without hope, why would we live our lives as stewards and disciples? What would the point be? So in the midst of what might seem very dark, polarized, and depressing times for many, I believe that the Advent stories in the lectionary might provide a lens to not only think about stewardship but to provide us hope and courage to be part of God’s loving work in the world.
Let’s start with the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Advent is a time of remembering, professing, and proclaiming God’s promises. This reading does this in spades. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:14-16, NRSV). This is God’s work and promise. In terms of stewardship this is a good starting place to point to, that God is active and up to something. And that God is with us, Emmanuel.
The psalm this week builds on these promises, but also connects them to the individual in their relationship with God. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:4-5, NRSV). In asking for this presence and leading, we admit that not only do we need God, but that we are God’s own. When we remember this, we remember that what we do matters for the sake of being part of God’s work in the world of caring for all of God’s children.
We also express our gratitude for God’s forgiving, reconciling, and saving work for us like the psalmist asks for and acknowledges. “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:6-7, NRSV).
If looking for some more ‘traditional’ stewardship type language, perhaps the second lesson from 1 Thessalonians 3 might be the right place to look. For one we read, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” (1 Thessalonians 3:9, NRSV). I might nuance this a bit, but how can we thank God enough for everything God does? We can’t. But we do what we can by living and serving as faithful stewards, held in God’s promises, and stewarding that which God entrusts for the sake of our neighbors and strangers near and far.
There’s another verse which might be fruitful for stewardship in this passage too. Be cautious though because it could go slippery down a prosperity gospel slope if you aren’t careful. “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12, NRSV).
In terms of the gospel lesson, there are some familiar stories and images. But in terms of stewardship the couple nuggets that stand out to me include: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’” (Luke 21:28, NRSV). When I hear these words, I am imagining what our response to God’s work and promises might look like. Do we stand up and raise our heads and eyes to God’s work in front of us, and to our neighbor’s needs all around us? Or do we look away for denial, lack of time or concern, fear, trembling, otherness, etc.?
It could also be fruitful for this first Sunday of the church year, to think some more about the Kingdom of God, just like you probably did for Christ the King this past weekend. “Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:29-33, NRSV). What might the Kingdom of God look like around you? How might you all ready be a part of it? And how might you be called to be a part of it as a steward of God’s love?
Finally, in this season that can often be busy and consumer focused, take the time to take stock of life, and wherever possible, slow down, watch, and listen for what God might be up to. If not, we might lose sight of God’s presence, and our hearts and minds might be come more focused on day to day worries than our vocations and what God is calling us to consider. To this end, we read, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap” (Luke 21:34-35, NRSV).
Sunday December 2, 2018: Narrative Lectionary- First Sunday of Advent (Year 1- Week 13)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Faith as a Way of Life
Focus Passages: Habakuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3:[3b-6], 17-19
Gospel Verse: Matthew 26:36-38
Faith is part of living life, and as the theme would suggest, it is our way of life. This doesn’t mean that “just have faith” is an answer to every question and concern though. As we begin Advent this week, this week’s story is a good one to ponder with the prophet Habakuk. The prophet is grieved by the pains, injustice, suffering, and challenges of the world, while waiting, hoping, and watching for God’s reply.
In terms of stewardship, it’s not the most obvious of texts to start from. But a couple nuggets jump out at me. First, there are some instructions for what to do, and the acknowledgement that the righteous live by faith. “Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith” (Habakuk 2:2-4, NRSV).
How might we live out our vocations like Habakuk to work for justice and peace? How might we live by faith? That might be a powerful Advent sermon if there ever was one.
The second nugget that occurs to me for stewardship in this story is the response to God’s work, even if the desired answer or outcome is not what comes. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights” (Habakuk 3:17-19, NRSV). Even so, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” This is our joyful response and it is at the heart of our stewardship of all that God entrusts, and our response to all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us.
The paired gospel verses this week come from Gethsemane, near the end of Jesus’ time on earth where Jesus is grieved like Habakuk, and asks the disciples to watch and pray with him. “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38, NRSV).
Sit and pray with each other. Stay awake. These are Advent themes for sure. In terms of stewardship, they are acts of discipleship, but they are necessary for stewardship. Because if we do not pray, listen and be with each other, and watch and respond to the needs around us and what God might be calling us too, it’s downright impossible for us to live and serve faithfully as stewards and disciples. And maybe there is a nugget worth mentioning or reminding in that fact.
In whatever direction you might feel called to lean at this start of this Advent season, may God be with you, may God’s promises and presence be felt by you and made known through you, and may God’s love abound.
Image Credit: With Hope