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 in Lent are as follows:
Last week included one of the best stewardship stories for preaching on in the lectionary from Deuteronomy 26. We don’t have quite the same luck this week, but there are good nuggets as always to ponder.
Genesis 15 features a famous story about God’s promise, presence, and relationship with Abram. Included is God’s promise about descendants, which in terms of stewardship might make for a wonderful illustration of and week to think about legacy, future, and what might be and become. We read, “He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV).
These descendants, future Children of God, will be Abram’s legacy. Through them, the world will be led and God’s work will be done. But that’s not all. “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates'” (Genesis 15:18, NRSV). God is promising land, or entrusting the promised land to Abram’s descendants. This is a precursor really to God’s entrusting of the promised land to the people of Israel. This act of entrusting and promise are signs and acts of stewardship which could lead to all sorts of possibilities for thinking about what all God entrusts and how we as God’s people steward it.
Psalm 27 offers reminder after reminder about who God is, and especially who God in relationship with us. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1, NRSV). For this promise, the psalmist offers a joyful response, a model really for us in our own gratitude and joy to God for what God provides for us. “Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord” (Psalm 27:6, NRSV).
The psalm concludes with a verse that you may recognize from the Taize song, “Wait for the Lord.” It’s a powerful refrain especially for the Lenten season. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14, NRSV). Do we allow ourselves to slow down and wait? Or must we always do and being doing things? Perhaps a stewardship theme for this Lenten season might be intentionality, to slow down and reflect, and to give permission to listen and wonder what God might be up to. To do this though might mean stepping back from the busyness of doing things, to give the time to just sit, pray, reflect, listen, and be present.
The gospel lesson for this week includes a sort of passion prediction and remark about Jerusalem as Jesus is looking toward the cross, but also acknowledging that it is not quite time to go to Jerusalem. Jesus remarks, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Luke 13:34-35, NRSV). In terms of stewardship this might be a good passage for thinking about God’s relationship with God’s people, and how we steward that relationship and embody it toward others as God desires to gather us all under God’s wings.
Whatever image or nugget about stewardship may captivate you this week, may God’s love, presence, and promise be made known to you and through you.
Sunday March 17, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Second Sunday in Lent (Year 1- Week 28)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Laborers in the Vineyard
Focus Passages: Matthew 20:1-16
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 16:5-8
This week the narrative lands in Matthew 20 with one of the more famous parables about the kingdom of heaven, often titled, “Laborers in the Vineyard.” In this story God’s concept of fairness, equity, justice, and perhaps stewardship are explained in such way that it is clear that God’s understanding is different than our own human ones.
The story begins, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-2, NRSV). In thinking about stewardship and justice, this seems pretty straight forward. There is work to be done, and the laborers doing the work and stewarding the land and resources of the vineyard must be compensated fairly.
The landowner isn’t one just sits idly by. Throughout the day he goes out into town, and tries to help provide both opportunities for those in need of labor to provide for their daily bread, but also, to best maximize the capacity of labor in his community to increase the yield of the harvest. Thus we read further, “When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard’” (Matthew 20:3-7, NRSV).
At the end of the day, it is time to compensate and send the laborers home. “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage” (Matthew 20:8-10, NRSV). In this story it is clear now that the landowner’s form of fairness and justice is that each of the laborers will receive “enough.” No one will receive special or extra treatment necessarily, but enough to compensate for a day’s work, and enough we would assume in the way the Kingdom of God works to provide for one’s family’s daily bread. But this level of equity, and sense of fair and justice rubs some people the wrong way.
Imagine if this happened today? I can easily picture the people’s response as described here. “And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you” (Matthew 20:11-14, NRSV). A key is this, “I choose to give…” This is a central claim about God’s gifts and act of entrusting. God’s provision is different than our human nature approaches, and it’s not transactional like most human interactions might seem.
This claim is followed up with the rhetorical question about generosity. The landowner asks, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:15-16, NRSV). If we remember that this is a story about the kingdom of heaven, we might also remember the truth of the psalmist from Psalm 24, that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…” Thus, all that we have and all that we are, is God’s.
When we remember this, we remember the extent of God’s generosity, and that God’s generosity far exceeds our wildest imaginations. At the same time, it also transcends all human created divisions, barriers, walls, and distinctions. This truth might be a bit unpopular in civil religion, but Christianity isn’t civil religion. It’s not something limited or tied to a sense of nationalism, elitism, or one identifying trait. Rather, its something that crosses barriers by building bridges, opens doors and breaks down walls. That’s what God’s love does. It provides. Whether that is hope and purpose, like in this story of providing something for idle laborers to do, the opportunity to work and use their talents and gifts productively. Or whether it provides manna and daily bread. God provides. And that is a central tenant of stewardship.
How do we affirm this truth that God provides? How has God provided for you and your community? And how might God be calling you to help to join in the work of the kingdom by providing for another’s needs?
In whatever ways you might approach this story and answer any of these or similar questions, may God’s provision and love be made known to you and made real through you and for you.