Preaching on Stewardship- January 20, 2019- The Second Sunday after Epiphany

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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 for the Second Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:

Sunday January 20, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)
First Lesson: Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Gospel of John 2:1-11

It’s another good week to preach on stewardship in the revised common lectionary. Between the famous gospel story of Jesus turning water into wine, and Paul’s words about the gifts of the Spirit and vocation, there is much to consider for stewardship.

Let’s start with the gospel, and the famous scene at that wedding banquet and the story of God in Christ turning the ordinary into the extraordinary (through the water into wine). “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (John 2:3-5, NRSV). Jesus unwittingly is being forced out into the open. In the one sense, this is yet another Epiphany, as God will be revealed, and the ministry to what Christ has been called is being shown and seen. This is also another glimpse into what God might be up to, perhaps becoming even more apparent in drawing the public’s eyes, attention, questions, and wondering.

water into wine
A funny sign and meme of “Jesus was here,” which is shared frequently on social media. Imagine coming across a scene like this at your local grocery store. What would you think if the water had turned into wine?

As Mary convinced, or perhaps more accurately, forced her son into doing something because “mom said so,” Jesus relented. “Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it” (John 2:7-8, NRSV). If looking for a stewardship sermon which offers the opportunity to think about what’s in a word, or what’s in the title of meaning of steward, (ie- manager, servant, etc.) this might be the perfect story given the wine steward’s role. So if you are a word smith or trying to teach your community about what’s beneath the surface with the concept of stewardship, this might be a natural jumping off point.

I think it might be richer for stewardship to focus on the last part of the story though. We read the famous conclusion. “When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:9-11, NRSV).

What does it say about our God who serves the best last? Or, put another way, our God who provides us with the best fruits/wines/abundance last? I wonder if this story might be an example of not only God providing a counter-narrative or another way as opposed to the conventional wisdom of the world, but also one where we see in God in Christ, what true hospitality and stewardship looks like. It’s a deep thing, and it’s not one where we hold back our first fruits, but rather we continue to serve and grow in our service as well as in the quality of our service. With life experience and growth in faith, perhaps our stewardship and discipleship deepens and grows too.

I am sure there is lots of other potential for thinking about stewardship with this story, and I’ll be dwelling in it a lot this week since I am preaching on it too. But those at least are my initial reactions to it.

At the same time, I am feeling pulled to the possibilities posed by Paul this week too.  Paul writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NRSV).

There are a variety of gifts. There are a variety of services. There are a variety of activities. This is all true, but it’s the same Spirit and God who brings them altogether as part of God’s work, with the overarching goal being to build up the kingdom, and for the sake of the common good. We’re all entrusted as stewards with unique gifts and vocations, and through us, some of God’s work is done. 

The provision of these gifts, strengths, and passions comes from God, as God entrusts them to God’s children. “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, NRSV).

All of these things are important, and are things through which God’s work is done. Alone they are good, but together, they are comprehensive in doing the work of God as led by the Spirit. This is an important reminder for stewardship. We need each other. We are called into relationship and communities together by God for each other’s sake, but also for the collective well-being of the world.

It’s not just about ourselves, but each other. And through Christ’s hands and arms outstretched and open to all on the cross, we ourselves are turned outward and opened to the whole world as the Spirit leads and as God calls and entrusts us with the abilities to serve and respond to God’s beloved world and children- beautiful and loved, but hurting and broken too. In this regard, it could be the perfect week for thinking and preaching about vocation and how we are stewards of our many vocations.

Now if looking for some different stewardship possibilities from the gospel or New Testament, Psalm 36 offers a chance to think about what God’s abundance might mean and look like. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:7-9, NRSV). What might the “abundance of God’s house” look, feel, sound, and taste like? And what might this mean for us being and having “enough” with God because in God, we have abundance?

Whichever story or question captivates you this week, may God’s abundant love be made known to you and through you.

Sunday January 20, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year 1- Week 20)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Tempted in the Wilderness
Focus Passages: Matthew 4:1-17
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 91:9-12

We move this week from Jesus’ baptism to Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. On the first glance, Jesus’ temptation may not be the most obvious or rich story for thinking about stewardship. But let’s dig in a bit more.

To Satan’s tempting, Jesus responds at least twice as we know well with rebuttal, scripture, faith, and trust. Example 1: “But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NRSV). God alone provides, this is a core component of our understanding of stewardship.

Example 2: Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’'” (Matthew 4:7, NRSV). In terms of stewardship, this may also be a counter-point to the poor theology of a prosperity gospel. The bartering or bargaining with God, or the “if you do this you will be rich” nonsense is rebutted by Jesus’ reminder to “not put the Lord your God to the test.”

The richest part of this story for stewardship might rest with the last portion, after Satan departs and Jesus has heard about John’s arrest. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 4:12-17, NRSV).

I am particularly drawn to the last part, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” This raises all sorts of stewardship questions and possibilities to ponder and imagine.

How do we steward this message? How do we steward the truth and hope of God’s love and light? How do we steward ourselves as bearers of God’s light and love? And how might we each be a part of the kingdom of heaven which has come near? Or put another way, how might God use us to do some of God’s kingdom building work in the world? 

Whichever idea or question grabs you, may it be fruitful, but most of all, may God’s love and light be with you and shine through you this week.

Image Credit: “Jesus Was Here” Funny Sign

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