Preaching on Stewardship- February 24, 2019- The Seventh 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 Seventh Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:

Sunday February 24, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)
First Lesson: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Gospel of Luke 6:27-38

This time after Epiphany keeps on rolling for another week, and with this week comes a few brilliant stories and passages, at least in my opinion. From the famous story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, to some deep stewardship words from the psalmist in Psalm 37, and then from the gospel of Luke, words of preaching and teaching from Jesus on the depths of how we are to engage in the world and love our neighbor. At first glance, it would appear that there are a lot of stewardship possibilities in these passages.

In the story from Genesis 45, we read a portion of the famous story of Joseph and the challenging relationships he has with his brothers. Where he could understandably want revenge for his brothers throwing him in a pit, and selling him into slavery, he not only offers love and forgiveness to them upon seeing them again. He welcomes them, and then promises to take care of them and provide for them in a terrible time of famine. “‘I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him” (Genesis 45:11, 15, NRSV).

This is good news to be sure. From a stewardship perspective, this is about living into a true sense of abundance. It would be easy to give into scarcity during a time of famine, but Joseph knows that God provides, and that that provision is grounded in the promises of God’s love, reconciliation, hospitality, and forgiveness. I am preaching this week, and I am leaning heavily to preaching on the gospel, but if not, it’s probably because I feel drawn to this story which gets to the depth of what forgiveness and love look like, that which Jesus is preaching about in this week’s gospel story. Put another way, this story in Genesis about Joseph might just be the perfect example or story to show what Jesus’ preaching and teaching this week look like when put into practice. 

Speaking of the gospel story, it’s so good I can’t just single out one or two verses. Rather, in terms of stewardship I would take it in three parts.

The first part‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31, NRSV).

There’s lot of Jesus’ famous one liners in these four verses. “Love your enemies.” Turn the other cheek. “Give to everyone who begs from you.” “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In terms of stewardship, this is teaching that is rich in wisdom about how we are to be in relationship with one another, and how we are to steward our relationships whom God has called us into as well as how to care for our neighbors and strangers near and far. With the inclusion of the “golden rule,” Jesus is calling us to look in the mirror. How do we want to be treated? How do we treat others? At the very least, we should treat others how we want and expect to be treated ourselves.

Now, the second part of the gospel passage this week. “‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36, NRSV).

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” In the story from Genesis that is exactly what Joseph is towards his estranged family. In terms of stewardship there is more wisdom about our stewardship of relationships here, but also wisdom about our economic practices too. When we read, “lend, expecting nothing in return,” that sure seems contradictory to our understanding of economic practices. But it exemplifies plenty of stories that come to mind of people helping people, doing what they can with the resources they have been entrusted with to help others who might need a little help to buy their first home, to make it to their next paycheck and feed their child, or who might be wrestling with job uncertainty, unemployment, or questions of what the next chapter in life might look like.

In terms of stewardship, we as Christians and as congregations need to lean into God’s abundance and help when those in our midst need help, whether we might get anything back or any return on our investment or not. But again, Jesus’ teaching here implies that if our focus is on the earthly return, what good is that. But if we lean into this teaching from Jesus in caring for our neighbors to such a deep extent as this, that will be a sign of God’s kingdom building work, and also a sign and reminder that we are children of the Most High.

Finally, the third portion of this week’s gospel passage. “‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back’ (Luke 6:37-38, NRSV).

This really sums it up. It’s Jesus’ rationale or preemptive answer to the logical question of “Why?” he might receive from those wondering why they need to do all of this, and live this way. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” “Give, and it will be given to you…” “For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” One has to be careful of a theology of works and works righteousness that could invariably come through misinterpreting this passage. But if understanding it as Jesus’ teaching for the concern of our neighbor, and for how we are to be stewards, then its message is clear.

When we remember that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s, then it naturally follows that we are to use that which we are entrusted with to do some of God’s work. And that work includes caring for those in need. It includes forgiving the hurt, broken, and sinful (as we are ourselves are). It includes giving to those in need. It includes lifting up those who are pressed down. It includes not judging others, but rather seeing them, caring for them, and opening your hands and arms to them as a sign of hospitality, welcome, love, and care. It’s really a cruciform act when you think about it, the opening of one’s arms to their neighbor in need, because that is the way Jesus’ hands and arms are open and outstretched for us, once and for all, on the cross. 

If impossibly at seems that you haven’t felt pulled around stewardship to Genesis or the gospel story, then perhaps there is a nugget you might like from Psalm 37 this week too. “For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity” (Psalm 37:9-11, NRSV). There is a word about abundance here, an example of God’s abundance for God’s children. A caution comes with this psalm though, be careful to draw the distinction between God’s abundance and prosperity, lest you fall into the trap of a prosperity gospel message (intended or unintended.)

Like I said, these are rich texts for stewardship this week. I trust that something will catch your eye and imagination. And through that, I trust that God’s love, challenge, and promise will be made known to you and through you this week.

Sunday February 24, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (Year 1- Week 25)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Feeding 5,000
Focus Passages: Matthew 14:13-33
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 95:1-5

This week’s story in the Narrative is one of my absolute favorites for stewardship. I mean if you can’t think about stewardship in the ultimate story of God’s abundance, you might as well throw in the towel and go home. The feeding of the 5,000 is a famous story to be sure. But it’s also one where God’s abundance is made clear, as is the promise that God provides.

We read, “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat’” (Matthew 14:14-16, NRSV).

Jesus says, “they need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Dismissing the people and sending them away is not an option. It’s kind of like a good congregation. If you can’t pull together a potluck meal with plenty of food for everyone and then some, that might say something about the health (or lack thereof) of your faith community. 

To Jesus’ declaration, the disciples replied, “‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:17-21, NRSV).

I have been feeling abundantly loved over the last week, a sign of God’s abundance. Thanks to all of my loving family and friends for overwhelming me so.

In terms of abundance it doesn’t get any clearer than this. From five loaves and two fish, God feeds 5,000 men plus women and children, and there were even twelve full extra baskets afterward. Or, if you prefer, everyone was fed, and there was even food filling the doggy-bags or take home bags to share with others who are hungry (or left overs for those with long journeys home to enjoy and fill them on their way).

In a stewardship sense, this is a story about God providing. It’s a reminder that God cares for God’s people, and provides for their needs. It’s a story about using what people have been entrusted with (bread and fish in this case) to feed the world. It’s a story about where the ordinary (bread and fish) is made extraordinary in that through these simple things, the masses are fed and then some.

There is no distinction made about worth. All are fed. No questions asked. This is so, because it is God doing God’s thing- providing for God’s people. That’s what we do as stewards and Children of God. And it’s also what we do as faith communities and congregations, and what we do as part of the larger church that we are a part of. Together more is possible, just as in this story, by gathering the five loaves and two fish, God was able to feed the crowd. Without sharing these resources together, perhaps the abundance wouldn’t have been quite the same. Or more likely, God would have had to have found another way, but God would certainly have promised as God promises.

The narrative story this week not only includes the feeding of the 5,000, but also the story of walking on the sea and Peter’s doubting that ultimately causes him to sink below the surface. They are two very rich stories, but in terms of stewardship I think I would focus heavily on the first.

The accompanying Psalm this week provides good words of what our response to God’s provision and abundance might look like. “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (Psalm 95:1-2, NRSV). Do we joyfully and gratefully respond to God’s love and promises for us? Do we give thanks for them? Or do we take them for granted? Or put another way, how might you have responded to the feeding of the 5,000+ people if you saw five loaves and two fish feed that many people? Good food for thought. (Pun not intended.)

In whatever direction this story may draw you, may God’s love and abundance be made real to you and through you this week.

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