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 Third Week of Advent is full of stories and reminders of the promises of what God will do. In terms of stewardship, it seems like an ideal time to tell the story and point to God’s story, and then ponder together how we live it out. To this end, let’s take the readings in order.
The prophet Zephaniah quotes the Lord in declaring what God will do. “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord” (Zephaniah 3:19-20, NRSV).
How are we to respond to this and all of God’s work? Isaiah and Philippians might offer a couple important answers. Isaiah says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:3-4, NRSV). Joy and gratitude. That’s our response. This is echoed in Philippians,”Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4, NRSV).
The joy and gratitude then lead to action and chance. Philippians 4 continues, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7, NRSV). The peace of God makes this possible. And this passage offers some possible signs of how this is borne out, through our love, prayer, and gentleness.
John the Baptist is a bit more direct to no one’s surprise. Our gospel story this week picks up right where we left off last week, with the ministry of John prior to Jesus’ baptism. John calls out the people as a “Brood of Vipers,” but it seems that his message is getting through, at least according to Luke. And the people want to know what they should do? How should they live? How should they change and/or respond to God’s work and promises for them?
“And the crowds asked John, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages'” (Luke 3:10-14, NRSV).
Within this are some key components for living as stewards and disciples. We are to:
- Share and care for our neighbors (clothes, food, etc.)
- Do Not defraud or steal
- Be enough, and we are enough because God is with us.
There is more in this story obviously, but if you hear these pieces you might more clearly make the connection that while God’s saving work and promise is a gift, it does have an impact on how we live our lives as stewards and disciples. We can’t help but be changed by God’s love, so then the question is how do we share that love and embody it. John is offering a starting place in his responses to the people’s questions.
John is also clear to redirect the people’s wonder not at him, but at the Messiah to come soon. “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire'” (Luke 3:15-16, NRSV). And knowing this wasn’t about him, he went about his vocation of proclaiming and spreading the news, a vocation that we all share in our lives as disciples and stewards as we read, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3:18, NRSV).
The Third Week of Advent means that it is the final week where our focus passage in the narrative is in the Prophets and Old Testament. Next week we will move to longer passages in the Gospel and New Testament. As Working Preacher summarizes this week’s story from Isaiah, “Through the Spirit, God’s servant will be a light to the nations, bringing release to prisoners.”
To this end, Isaiah 42 is a beautiful and powerful servant song. It’s a fitting passage to read in the second half of Advent, proclaiming the promises of God that will come soon in the Messiah and Emmanuel.
The story begins with the declarative reorienting and briefly explaining who this servant or Messiah will be, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).
In terms of stewardship, this is all about God’s work and promise for us. It’s not about what we do. Though it might lead to reflection about how do we respond, gratefully or joyfully, and or engaging in some of this work that God calls us to and entrusts us with?
We read further about this servant, that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching” (Isaiah 42:3-4, NRSV). This justice work is God’s work, but it is also part of our stewardship as we are called to be bearers of God’s justice and peace for all the earth in our baptisms.
We are then again reminded about who our God is that will be doing this work, and what all this life-giving work might entail. We are also reminded that our God of salvation calls us into relationships both with God and our neighbor. “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7, NRSV). A theme out of this obviously is that this servant will be “a light to the nations,” but we are also then bearers of this light, as we are called, commanded, marked, and sealed in our baptisms.
Finally, there is a closing declarative about who God is, what has happened already, and what may and will come. “I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:8-9, NRSV). In terms of stewardship preaching, it really is a great week to tell of God’s promises, and then wonder how are we bearing them out- these promises and hopes that ground us and guide us in our faith, and that center us especially in this season of Advent.
Connected to this week’s narrative story is Matthew 12:15-21, which is a summary of the ministry of Jesus of sorts, that connects Jesus’ work directly with this story and servant song from Isaiah. As we read:
“This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smoldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope’” (Matthew 12:17-21, NRSV).
We know this servant to be the incarnate and resurrected Christ. I wonder, how do we celebrate this servant? And how do we embody this servant’s gifts of life, love, and promise of life in our stewardship and discipleship?
Whatever the questions, stories, or ideas are that call to you this week, may God’s promises of life and love be made clear to you and through you.