Preaching on Stewardship- February 3, 2019- The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:

Sunday February 3, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel of Luke 4:21-30

As someone who is preaching on stewardship this week myself I have to be honest. The gospel this week isn’t necessarily a good story for thinking about stewardship with. Because of that, I might be leaning heavily into the 1 Corinthians text. But before feeling pulled totally that direction, let’s go in order story by story and see what stewardship nuggets might surface.

The First Lesson comes from the first chapter of Jeremiah this week. Within this passage what draws my attention is the language of call and vocation  for Jeremiah and the fact that God has put God’s words in the prophet’s mouth. More so even though is the reminder of God’s presence with the prophet, just as God is present with all of God’s children; and God’s promise to save and deliver is reaffirmed.

Towards the end of the appointed passage we read, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:8-10, NRSV). There’s quite a bit packed into these short verses, with potential for any number of stewardship themes ranging from the aforementioned vocation, and God’s promise and presence, to even some thoughts about the Kingdom of God being built some through the prophet. It’s a deep and rich text to be sure.

This week’s Psalm comes from Psalm 71. This psalm offers a reminder of our relationship with God, and of how we give our thanks and praise to God for being our hope and trust. “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you” (Psalm 71:5-6, NRSV).

The Second Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 13. The last couple weeks we have been reading from 1 Corinthians 12, which has been full of language about spiritual gifts and offered wisdom about vocation, and the need for all of us to do that which we are entrusted with and called to, for it is through all our unique gifts that God works and God’s work is at least in-part done in the world around us today. This week’s reading picks up on these themes and connects them to the overarching theme of love. On the surface, this passage will sound familiar since it’s one of the most famous wedding passages. But if we can get beyond the use of this text at a wedding, it’s also a rich text perhaps for thinking about stewardship.

How’s this for a picture of love? That of a father and his daughter.

Pure and simply, without love, what’s the point? If you have great gifts and talents, and if you are the most generous person in the world, what’s the point, if you don’t have love? That seems to be the question that Paul is raising here. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NRSV).

If we give ourselves away, if we offer up all that we have and all that we are, we really could only be doing this through love. But if somehow we were to suddenly give much away and be overly generous, but not do so because of a deep love that is leading us to be generous, it would beg the question if we were really giving anything? For stewardship more broadly, is not possible, if we are not caught up in joy and gratitude for God’s work, love, and promise for us. And that joy and gratitude that we are caught up in, is the love that pours in, out, and through us from our God who created us, loves us, and is with us.

If preaching on this passage on stewardship, I think I would be drawn to this theological line of reasoning, and then connect it to the familiar verses that follow. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NRSV). This beautiful image and articulation of love has added depth still when connected with the overall idea that this is how we live, grow, and bear each other in community as the People of God together, and through whom together God’s work in the world is done, as Paul has been articulating and making the case for over the past couple chapters at least.

Now on the Gospel reading. Last week’s portion of this story stopped at the ending of Jesus reading from the scroll and reciting the words of the prophet. These words of justice and hope, are words of God’s promises and work, they are words which we respond to and bear out through our stewardship. Last week’s portion of the story would be an easy one in comparison to preach on stewardship about.

This week’s portion of the story, perhaps not so much. For this picks up from last week and shows the crowd’s reaction. It doesn’t help that Jesus gets a little snippy with his hometown faithful. But ultimately he seemingly pushes them too far, and the synagogue was filled with rage to the point where they chased him out of town and wanted to hurl him off the cliff. “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30, NRSV). Of course Jesus escaped without harm.

But in terms of stewardship, perhaps the take away might be this- bearing God’s word isn’t always easy, and doing God’s work isn’t either. Sometimes, even from those who mean well and know you, the Word and work won’t always be well received. Yet this is the work we are called to as stewards and disciples, and it won’t always be the most popular. But our faith is not, nor has ever been, about being popular has it? And when it appears to be popular to have faith, it’s worth wondering, what does this mean? For in Jesus, we are both convicted and forgiven. In him, we are reminded of our call as stewards to care for and love and serve all of our neighbors- those we agree with and those we may never agree with, simply because we are all God’s children. This counter-cultural inclusivity may run unpopular, when one realizes that their faith is not something exclusive and about themselves, but rather about God, themselves, and everyone else.

Looking at the four readings this week, there seems to be quite a few possible stewardship nuggets to consider. Whichever one(s) draws your attention, as you dwell in it, may God push you a little and help you hear a little more clearly, and may God’s love and challenge be made known to and through you this week.

Sunday February 3, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year 1- Week 22)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Treasure in Heaven
Focus Passages: Matthew 6:7-21 [25-34]
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 20:7

This week in the narrative, we find ourselves in chapter 6 of Matthew. Within it, there’s a great deal of teaching and learning. Jesus teaches the Lord’s prayer, shares insights about treasure in heaven, the lilies of the field, and the call to lay down our worries and trust in God’s abundance and provision. I’ll offer a few brief thoughts below on this story.

But first a reminder, it’s very possible that your faith community may have heard this story as recently as this past summer as it is included in the stewardship focus cycle of the narrative lectionary that was appointed for the summer of 2018. In an effort to save work, and to share some other preaching nugget possibilities, here is a prior preaching commentary that included much of this reading from August 2018. I preached on this passage when it came up in the narrative lectionary, so if helpful, please check out some other possibilities from that sermon, “Generosity- a counter-cultural life as a disciple & steward in a world full of fear and worry.”

Now in looking at this passage with fresh eyes, a couple things jump out. First there is the inclusion of the Lord’s prayer. “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:9-15, NRSV).

When we pray this, what are we actually praying for? If you are serving in a Lutheran community, this could be an ideal week to return to the small catechism and ponder, “What does this mean?” We are asking God for provision and presence, and to rest in God’s abundance. We are not asking, or at least we shouldn’t be asking if living into this prayer, for an over-abundance or great wealth. Hence, Jesus instructs us to pray for bread and not for a five-course steak dinner for example.

I am also struck looking at this passage by the connection of the prayer with the act of forgiveness. We must care for and share mercy and love with our neighbor, and that includes true forgiveness (even of debts and trespasses). If we do not, Jesus pretty clearly says here that God will not forgive our debts or trespasses.

We’re to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven too. What might this mean? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV).

Are we intentional in our focus and do we have things in the right order, with God first, recognizing that God entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are as stewards? Or is our offering or return to God more of an after thought? If so, that might well be indicative of our heart’s health. If preaching on stewardship this week, I think these two questions might be key for your community.

And if for some reason, you need even more possibilities from this text Jesus surmises, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today'” (Matthew 6:33-34, NRSV). There are some obvious stewardship insights in here too, aren’t there.

Wherever you might feel pulled to focus, may God’s love, challenge, and presence be real for you, and made real through you this week.

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