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 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:
The deeper we travel into this time after Epiphany, the deeper we dwell in the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ depth of teaching. This week we dwell in part of Luke’s version of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain,” or as other gospel writers might call it, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Whether this was Jesus teaching down with the people on the plain, or up on the mountain top, Jesus has important things to say, teach, and preach to be sure.
In terms of stewardship I am struck by a couple things. First, the people recognize that God is up to something in Jesus. We read that, “And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them” (Luke 6:19, NRSV). It is safe to say no one really understood this kind of power and what God might be up to, not saying that even we would know what God was up to in this, but clearly Jesus was not some ordinary person. There is recognition then that things are different now.
The bulk of this week’s gospel focus though rests with the Beatitudes or blessings and the woes. In terms of stewardship it’s hard not to read this story as a call and direction for what we are to do as God’s stewards and disciples. It’s also hard not to read this story and feel convicted and the need to confess for all the times we come up short.
We read that Jesus, “looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6:20-23, NRSV).
To these is given the kingdom of God. And to us, whether this is ours to look forward to, it is clear that these are the people that we are called to see, acknowledge, to love, and to serve. To meet people where they are at. To uplift and care for the poor. To feed the hungry. To comfort those who mourn. To stand in solidarity and not just support, but work for justice, for those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed. In terms of stewardship, God in Christ is pretty clear this week to what end we are to love, live, and serve and use all that God has entrusted to our care to help build up God’s kingdom. If you are courageous enough, take a look at your congregation’s budget, and see how well it matches up to this call (or not).
But, we can’t stop there, can we. Jesus follows up these words with a few others that are just as important and perhaps even harder to hear. “‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. ‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. ‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:24-26, NRSV).
Let’s be real. Jesus is quite likely talking to us. If you are reading this blogpost, you have access to the internet. You have had some kind of education to be able to read. And because of that, it’s safe to assume that given the averages of the world population, you should be considered rich. Sure you probably aren’t a millionaire or billionaire, but you are rich in that you have what you need and then some, probably. I am convicted of this too. I’ll confess it. Given the average wealth in the world, I know I am somewhere in the top 1-5% probably, even though when I look at my bank account I sure don’t feel rich. But I have enough.
We probably all struggle, but that struggle needs to be put in perspective. And Jesus is doing that today for those that are listening to his preaching and teaching. Jesus is warning us not to become complacent and to turn inward and toward ourselves, but rather to stay focused and grow deeper in our relationship with God. Jesus knows how challenging wealth and money are for our relationship with God, nothing can more easily get in the way.
And likewise, if we’re full, perhaps we might forget to thank God for God’s abundance which we partake in, and for the daily bread we consume. And perhaps we think that we have done all this work in our life to earn and deserve what we have now, and perhaps we might even trick ourselves into thinking we’re super important, powerful, and that we matter because we have tons of followers on social media who speak well of us and follow us.
It’s really not hard to follow this train of thought. In terms of stewardship it’s a cautionary tale. Jesus cares so deeply about us and for us, and loves us so, that he is willing to offend us and make us uncomfortable by calling to us to reflect on our daily life. He is calling us to take account of our decisions and what matters to us. And he’s inviting us to come to him, to change course, and to listen more deeply to how God is calling us to use what God has entrusted to us for God’s work, and for the sake of our neighbors in the world in need all around us, near and far.
It might not be a popular or easy sermon to preach, especially given the societal and political realities we live in. I suspect Jesus’ sermon wasn’t all that popular with the powers that be when he preached it either. But that doesn’t change its importance, in fact, it probably solidifies it. When Jesus preached this 2,000 years ago it mattered. And if he preached it today, it would matter just as much. As much as the world has changed, apparently, our human nature and our need to continually be turned outward instead of focused in on ourselves has not.
Now if for some reason the Gospel lesson this week isn’t calling you, perhaps the epistle might be? In terms of stewardship I think it’s a good opportunity to remember who we are, and why we do what we do. We read the rather rhetorical question, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12, NRSV). And then after some lengthy discourse, the final retort, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NRSV). Because we hold this to be true, we live as stewards and disciples and everything follows in response to this truth. Clearly orienting this may be timely for stewardship in your midst, especially as we continue in this time after Epiphany and move ever closer to the journey of Lent.
Whatever might speak to you, may God in Christ’s love and challenge be real for you, and shared and made real through you this week.
Sunday February 17, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Year 1- Week 24)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Parables of the Kingdom
Focus Passages: Matthew 13:24-43
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 84:1-7
We’re skipping ahead a few chapters in Matthew this week, and find ourselves with some more teaching from Jesus in the form of parables or stories. These can be quite rich, but might take a little effort to pull out some nuggets about stewardship. But here are my first reactions.
Jesus’ parables are often about the Kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven as Matthew likes to put it. So it is fitting to start here. “He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away'” (Matthew 13:24-25, NRSV). And then the final advice from this story, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship this first parable has me wondering about all that God entrusts. God entrusts us with so much, and we have all the resources necessary to do some good in the world, and be a servant and bearers of God’s love. God has planted in us the good seed so to speak. But we also acknowledge that this work is God’s, and it’s not up to us. Though we can choose to be a part of it more openly, or we can try and get in the way. And perhaps that’s a stewardship kernel to consider from this story. God will do God’s thing, God just chooses to do it with us, through us, and for us in some way, and hopes that we not only recognize that but want to be a part of that work in our discipleship and stewardship.
The second parable about the mustard seed is similar to the first. “He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32, NRSV). In reading this story, I am drawn to the image of how we are not only created in the Image of God ourselves, we are bearers of God’s love. How might we be bearers of love, offering hope, peace, and reminders of God’s presence, comfort, and promise like the mustard seed grows into a refuge for the birds of the air?
At the end of the parables in this week’s story, Jesus responds to the disciples’ query about what he meant by these stories. To this Jesus explains, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13:37-43, NRSV)
We know this story. I wonder as stewards if we choose to ignore it, or somehow to not listen to it as Jesus calls us to? I also wonder, believing and hoping that as the children of God we are children of the kingdom and good seed, how are we doing at making room for God to move us, and then making time to listen to God and follow God’s call out into the world? How are we doing at noticing our neighbors in need and serving, as we are called to do as stewards and seeds of the kingdom? Any question like this might make for an interesting and timely stewardship sermon.
Whatever direction these parables take you, no matter their mystery or complexity, may God’s love, promise, and challenge be made known to you this week and through you.