Preaching on Stewardship- March 31, 2019- Fourth Sunday in Lent

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 in Lent are as follows:

Sunday March 31, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C)
First Lesson: Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This week’s readings feature some of the more familiar stories in the lectionary cycle, especially the gospel reading which features the story of the Prodigal Son. Let’s start there as we consider possibilities for thinking and potentially preaching about stewardship this week.

Towards the end of the story, Jesus continues telling about the Father and his two sons. Let’s pick it up with the rebuke and retort of the oldest son who stayed behind with his dad to his dad, upon his younger brother’s return. “But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found’” (Luke 15:29-32, NRSV).

This cross was made by a former confirmation class of Thabor Lutheran Church in Wausa, Nebraska. It offers a helpful reminder of the season of Lent as people enter the church, but also of our repenting and returning toward God, like the Prodigal Son returns to his father. 

Enough books and commentaries have been written about this story to fill a library probably. So I don’t intend to offer something new here. But in terms of stewardship, I would highlight the very last verse of this story. “Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Two things strike me. The promise that “all that is mine is yours,” and the recognition that “we had to celebrate and rejoice.” These sound like promises that our God makes and what our God does when we repent and return to God. They are also what I would hope that we do, celebrate and rejoice for what God has done, promises to do, and continues to do, for us.

There is much that can be preached on that famous story. And as telling the story is central to stewardship, if that is what you feel called to do this week, wonderful. If looking for some more inspiration, perhaps consider Psalm 32 which digs deeply into the joy of forgiveness. It could be a useful story to for thinking about our response to the gifts and grace of God, and the forgiveness which God provides and which we are called to do likewise to ourselves and our neighbors.

Either of those passages would make for rich stewardship preaching. But at first glance, and if looking for something a little different, I might really consider digging deeply into 2 Corinthians this week. I love verse 17 in particular. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV). Many churches and denominations have used this verse as a theme. In terms of stewardship, what might it mean that “everything has become new” through Christ? New life. New hope. New possibilities. God is active and up to something in the world. Pondering about this might lead to all sorts of stewardship wonderings about what God might be up to, and how we might be called to witness to it, and be pat of it.

Further in the passage more examples of what this looks like are offered. For example, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NRSV). Reconciliation means forgiveness, and restoration of relationships. That is possible through God in Christ. But also possible is the good news of this message which is entrusted to us. In terms of stewardship, this might be yet another opportunity to reflect on the art and act of God entrusting to us, as it is directly written about in this passage. 

One other thought about this passage. As we are called and entrusted as stewards, we are also “ambassadors for Christ,” called to witness and share the Good News as well as to share stories of how we see God at work. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, NRSV).

The Prodigal Son story is rich and full beyond most. But add in the Psalm and New Testament lesson, and you have tons of great stories and things to think about and wrestle with this week. I for one, think it would be a wonderful week to preach on stewardship too. But whatever direction you feel led, may God’s promises, love, and grace be made known to you, and especially through you.

Sunday March 31, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year 1- Week 30)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Bridesmaids (or Talents)
Focus Passages: Matthew 25:1-13 and/or Matthew 25:14-30
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 43:3-4

The Narrative Lectionary provides a choice this week of parables. You can focus on the “Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids,” the “Parable of the Talents,” or if you choose to dig into all of Matthew 25, you could include both. If looking for stewardship wisdom this week, I think I would focus on the “Parable of the Talents.” These are both famous stories, but the second one likely has more stewardship nuggets to dig into.

It begins with setting the stage, where a man entrusts some of his slaves with some talents and makes them responsible for them. “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matthew 25:14-15, NRSV). A core tenant in stewardship is the belief that God entrusts God’s people with all that have and all that they are (built on an understanding of Psalm 24:1, for example.) This parable might be a way to unpack that understanding, as God entrusts people with different gifts, abilities, passions, skills, strengths, etc.

There is rightly some hesitation to consider this text with the power dynamic of a person and slaves, and speaking to the justice fact of this relationship is certainly valid. For stewardship purposes, if it makes sense, change the slaves to employees, neighbors, partners, disciples, stewards, etc., and the stewardship principles probably still hold.

The story continues, explaining what each person who was entrusted to did with that which they were entrusted. “The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (Matthew 25:16-18, NRSV).

Imagine this is a story about you and me. Think about the different gifts, strengths, passions, etc., that you have and have been entrusted to you by God. What have those things led to? What has God done perhaps through you, through that which God has entrusted? Any such wondering would be fascinating. The challenge of course here is to remember that this is not a works righteousness thing. It’s not about doing or not doing and being saved, but on the one hand responding to the joy one feels for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do. It’s also about when swept up in that joy, feeling the sense that one wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to share the good news of God’s promises through their own life, and one way that happens is through living life as a steward, and stewarding that which God has entrusted.

The story, perhaps takes a harder turn. “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:19-23, NRSV).

For the first two people, it seems to work out well. They have accepted what God entrusted, and grew. They grew in their service. And likewise, we grow as stewards and disciples through engaging in life, serving our neighbor, digging into the scriptures and dwelling deeply in them, praying, and gathering in community around the Word and Sacraments.

The results for the third person in the story were not as good, obviously. “Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest” (Matthew 25:24-27, NRSV).

The third person buried what God entrusted. They either chose not to grow it, or they decided to hoard it for themselves. Imagine if you had a gift as a pianist, but refused to play the piano. What a waste. Or, imagine if you had a beautiful mind for numbers, but refused to learn algebra or to ever pick up a calculator. What a missed opportunity. Or, imagine, if you have received a call to serve a neighbor in need, but decided you were too busy. Okay perhaps these aren’t all quite the same point as the story, but I think they are similar enough. God entrusts us with what we have so that we live an abundant life, but also so that through us, some of God’s work in the world might be done of caring for our neighbors in need. When we don’t step up, we miss an opportunity to witness and be a part of something way bigger than ourselves. 

The story concludes with the entruster’s response, the rationale for the entrusting, and the results for the one who refused to grow that which they were entrusted with. “So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:28-30, NRSV).

It’s not the easiest story to be sure. But it is full with possibilities for thinking about stewardship. If the good news seems lacking, the paired verse from Psalm 43 provides reminders of the depth of God’s presence and promise. Gifts that are given which could never be earned, but gifts we are so grateful for, like God being with us, that we can’t help but share them with the world in need. Wherever your wrestling with this story might take you this week, may God’s love, challenge, and promise be made known to you and through you.

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