Each Monday on the blog 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 Third Sunday in Easter are as follows:
The Third Sunday of Easter brings us some rich texts and stories, to be sure. Let’s just take them in order with my first reactions and ideas, starting with the first lesson from Acts. Whenever I read this story from Acts 9, I think of the famous Egil Hovland choral piece, “Saul,” and singing it with the Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University and with the beautiful and full organ in Lagerquist Hall. Here’s a performance of it from the University of Texas San Antonio.
The famous story begins, “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'” (Acts 9:1-5, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship I am always struck by the drama of this story but also the question, “Who are you, Lord?” Isn’t this the question that is central to the Easter season, and the time that follows as the news of God’s activity for us and saving and resurrecting work spreads? And to this question we respond like the women at the tomb and the disciples did when Jesus visited them after the resurrection with the words, “We have seen the Lord.” And from that declaration, the life and witness of being a disciple and steward follows.
Paul is chosen and called by God to be a witness and instrument of God’s work in the world. As the Lord declares to Ananias, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16, NRSV). Though Paul’s story is unique with its drama, and the extent to which Paul’s life and work changes with his conversion, its not a call that is unique to just Paul. We are all called to this life as a disciple and steward, and perhaps this story is a good opportunity to frame that call and work that we each share.
Work that follows from the declaration of who God is, and the fact that we have seen the Lord. The story concludes, “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God'” (Acts 9:18-20, NRSV). With this change in Paul’s life, it’s hard to argue that this too is not a resurrection and new life story, perfect for the Easter season.
From that rich story, we move to Psalm 30. It is one of my favorite psalms for stewardship and specifically for the idea that our stewardship is our joyful response to and for all that God has done for us. The psalmist proclaims, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit,” and for this good news, the psalmist calls us all to share in joy and to “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:2-4, NRSV).
The psalmist is not done though, because towards the end of this psalm the psalmist gives some of the most famous words for how we might respond with joy and gratitude for God saving us, and turning the world around. “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever” (Psalm 30:11-12, NRSV). This is what a joyful response looks like, and it is what a deep life of stewardship I believe is grounded in.
The gospel story from John 21 is not without depth and stewardship possibilities either. Jesus appears to the disciples while they are fishing, and once they realize it is Jesus, Peter declares boldly in the same vein that the disciples earlier declared “we have seen the Lord,” “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7, NRSV).
In this scene, there is a sense that yet again their is an abundance and perhaps an over abundance of the harvest of fish to feed the hungry. The nets are full, yet again. “But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead” (John 21:8-14, NRSV).
Running with the abundance theme could be powerful. But there is another in this story. Towards its end Jesus questions and instructs Peter, and the orders or instructions are for Peter, but also all of us as disciples and stewards. Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15, NRSV). He says, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16, NRSV), “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17, NRSV), and “Follow me.” (John 21:19, NRSV). If you ever wonder why we do what we do as disciples and stewards, or if you ever needed a way to frame that work that we share together, as God’s work in the world done by God’s disciples and stewards, there are four short and succinct statements. Perhaps they might frame well your community’s stewardship in action.
Whatever story or message might surface for you this week, may God’s call and resurrection promise be with you and shared and made real through you.
From the end of Matthew and “The Great Commission” last week, we move in the narrative to Acts and Peter’s Vision. It’s clear in this story, that God’s work and message is not just for one community or population. Rather God’s work and mission is for all people in all places.
As the chapter begins we hear a story about stewardship and alms giving. “In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:1-2, NRSV). In terms of stewardship, perhaps just explaining what alms are, as one’s offering and care for the poor, might be an important education piece in your context.
Of course, there is more here too, as the story continues. “One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.’ When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:3-8, NRSV).
To respond to this, is to hear God’s call and do as God calls. I wonder, when have people in your community heard such calls? Perhaps pondering the whole concept of call and response and our activity as stewards and disciples might be a powerful and timely thing to do this week.
This story from Acts is filled with lots of depth. In terms of stewardship though I would probably jump towards the end of the story. Peter is recognizing the truth about the inclusivity and extent of God’s love. “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35, NRSV).
At the heart of stewardship too is the story of God’s activity and work for us. Peter in Acts 10 here does a beautiful job of recounting it as follows:
“You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’” (Acts 10:36-43, NRSV).
This is such a beautiful and powerful story, and it continues with Peter recognizing God’s work, abundance, and inclusivity to all people rather than exclusivity to just a few. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days” (Acts 10:44-48, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship, how do we break out of our self-created barriers and limits to who we think are God’s people? How do we go beyond walls and barriers, intended or not, to show the radical hospitality and inclusivity for all of God’s people that God offers and shows for us? This is important work for disciples and stewards, especially as begin to discern just how big and deep God’s mission is that God invites us and calls us to be a part of with God.
That call and mission are highlighted in the included gospel verses for this story in the narrative this week. From Matthew 9 we read, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few’ (Matthew 9:36-37, NRSV).
Perhaps this week might be a week for you to help your community see themselves as laborers in God’s world, but not the only laborers. Perhaps it might be of value this Easter season to think about how we are laborers as stewards and disciples together with all of God’s people of all places and all times. When we think in this way, perhaps God’s love and breadth as the Body of Christ become something even more amazing to us, and especially how together we can do so much more good and ministry in the world than we could ever do alone as individuals or individual faith communities.
Whatever parts of this story grabs your imagination, may God’s call and promise be heard, and may it be shared in the deep love of God in Christ which is offered for you and for me.