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:
The second week of Advent brings us back earlier in the Gospel of Luke. In place of the psalm this week we hear the words about the baby who would grow to be John the Baptist. The gospel story picks up on this story years later, at the beginning of the story of John’s ministry before Jesus would come to be baptized. These are well known stories, and because of that there are also possibilities for stewardship in them.
Zechariah spoke the prophecy about his son, including these verses: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79, NRSV).
This is a beautiful image. It’s one that is include in the morning prayer (Matins) liturgy. It’s also one at the heart of Advent. It’s a familiar story and proclamation, but it’s also a promise. God is up to something. And in that, people will be forgiven their sins. They will grow to understand God as their salvation. And there will be the hope and way of peace. These are things at the heart of our faith. I wonder, how do we steward this message this time of year? And how through our acts, are we stewarding God’s love through the good news of forgiveness, the hope and promise of salvation, and the sharing of peace?
Skipping ahead a couple chapters in Luke, we find this week’s appointed gospel story. Though perhaps it might be just as effective to put both passages from Luke together this week. In this second one, we read about the start of John’s formal ministry. We read about how John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3, NRSV). This is just as Zechariah had prophesied.
Thinking about stewardship, my favorite passage for this week probably comes in the last half of the appointed gospel reading. It’s a quotation of the prophet Isaiah, and its words are about as central for Advent as they come. “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4-6, NRSV).
“Every valley shall be filled (or lifted up).” “Every mountain and hill shall be made low.” “The crooked shall be made straight.” “The rough ways made smooth.” This is all God’s work. These are God’s promises. With God, everything changes and will change. Isaiah foretold this, and John the Baptist embodied this as the one preparing the way of the Lord.
How do we prepare for the Lord and make room? As stewards, how do we prepare? How might we also be called to steward this message? And how might we be called (and/or are already called) to be part of this work of making things easier for our neighbor? The work of sharing God’s love? The work of helping out and making life a little bit easier and a little bit better for others? The work of justice and peace?
There’s plenty of stewardship possibilities in the selections from Luke. (And as you might know from the gospel of Luke, there will be plenty of stewardship and social justice possibilities to come and consider in the lectionary year C ahead.)
If looking for some other stewardship nugget possibilities, the readings from Malachi and Philippians have some as well. Malachi includes a reference to offerings or sacrifice, and how we ourselves are offerings, only made clean and acceptable through God’s work on us and for us. “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:2-4, NRSV).
It’s important to note here, that with God, we are enough and made enough to do God’s work. It could be easy for this text to be used in a guilting or judgmental way, and that would be my extreme caution. It’s God who does the refining and cleaning, not us. Just as it’s God who saves us, and not us.
From Philippians, we sense themes of gratitude and joyful response to God and for what God has done and promises to do. “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship, how does our love overflow? How are we bearers of God’s love, peace, and mercy? These might be good stewardship questions to consider, especially in thinking about the idea of a “harvest of righteousness, as we read, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11, NRSV).
There are many possibilities in the lectionary for stewardship this week. Maybe any one of these ideas or questions might be a perfect starting place for thinking more deeply about stewardship for your context.
The second week of Advent brings us in the Narrative this year to Esther. In this week’s story, she is a queen who is being approached and perhaps even called to hard but important justice work. She shows good leadership by taking notice of the people, and wanting to find out what is happening. She reaches out to learn more. She listens. And then she makes a plan to act by approaching the king, even if it means putting her life on the line.
The Working Preacher summary statement for the narrative this week is “For such a time as this, Esther was made queen.” For such a time as this, Esther stewards her role and leadership in such a way that is about others. She sees her role not as one of ruling, but serving. She embodies an understanding of vocation. And in terms of stewardship, this might be a great week to connect her story to the many vocations in your context.
In thinking about this story, friend Jonathan Rundman’s song, “For Such a Time as This,” comes to mind today. What might this be a time for that God is calling and entrusting you with to respond? How might God be calling or using you to do some of God’s important work in the world?
In terms of the story itself, there are probably three pieces I want to highlight in particular. First, Esther notices Mordecai and tries to do the good work of leadership to learn and research what is happening and why. “When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why” (Esther 4:4-5, NRSV).
Mordecai is reaching out to Esther in the hopes that the Queen will notice her people, and feel compelled to act with mercy, justice, and love. Esther is the one person in a position of authority who might be able to act on behalf of the people, and Mordecai knows it. In terms of a sports illustration, this really might be the sort of “Hail Mary” pass at the end of a football game. It’s the last shot, and the percentage of success isn’t great, but you have to take it. “Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people” (Esther 4:6-8, NRSV).
The Queen hears Mordecai’s reply, and agrees. But before acting she calls for a fast to prepare and center herself and the people in God. This is act of leadership, discipleship, and stewardship. Esther understands the situation after listening and learning. Esther understands how her role enables and entrusts her with an opportunity. She also understands that with it, comes great responsibility. She stewards all of this by planning her approach, grounded before God in fasting and prayer before entrusting the opportunity to perhaps be a vessel on behalf of her people, but also one through which God might use to do God’s life-giving work.
“Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him” (Esther 4:13-17, NRSV).
As much as there are stewardship kernels in this story from Esther, the stewardship implications in the suggested paired gospel verse from Matthew 5 might be more obvious.
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (Matthew 5:13, NRSV). How are we salt of the earth? I wonder, how does our salt show up in the way we live and steward?
Jesus commends, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14, NRSV). How do we share God’s light in the world? How do we bear God’s love, hope, and promises to a hurting and anxious world?
And then in words that we might know from the hymn, “This Little Light of Mine,” and words also used often in baptism, Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16, NRSV). How does our light shine before others? What good works are done through us or by us, as part of God’s work? Not work through which life is earned, but rather works through which we respond to God’s work, gifts, and promises to us.
There’s lots of possibilities in both the revised common and narrative lectionaries for thinking about stewardship this week. Wherever you might feel led, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you this week.