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 Fourth Sunday in Easter are as follows:
As I scroll through the texts this week, the obvious starting place is that it is “Good Shepherd” Sunday. So with that in mind, I am going to somewhat ignore that fact, and take the readings in order, because I think there might be some other stewardship pieces that fit nicely from all four of these appointed texts this week.
From the first lesson in Acts 9 we read about Tabitha, “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36, NRSV). Perhaps Tabitha or Dorcas might be the perfect character to think about stewardship with. The story tells us that “she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.”
This description might be one of a deacon, or minister of word and service; but hopefully it is more the description of a disciple and steward. One that might describe any and all who follow the good shepherd. Perhaps it might be a good week to lift up a few saints who have passed away recently in your congregation as examples of faithful disciples and stewards? Or, perhaps it might be worth thinking about what examples of stewards look like in your context?
In terms of the rest of the story from Acts 9, there is the important reminder of God’s promise and that this is God’s work. “Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:40-42, NRSV). In this Easter season, it is worth remembering the theme that “we have seen the Lord,” and we have seen and witnessed God’s resurrection work in our midst. How do we share this good news, and remain grounded in our stewardship flows in response to and because of God’s work for us, not the other way around?
On Good Shepherd Sunday, that means that we will sing, read, or hear the very famous and familiar words from Psalm 23. In terms of stewardship, you could just sit in verse 1 for a whole sermon likely. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, NRSV). Think about those last four words. “I shall not want.” Or as other translations read, “I shall not be in want.” These could be the words that lead to us looking holistically at ourselves as stewards. Do we rest in God’s promises? Do we recognize the abundance God provides and entrusts? Do we have enough? Or are we enslaved by the sins of scarcity, and the thinking that we don’t have enough, and thus, we are in want?
This is not to minimize the fact that there are plenty of people in the world in need- In need of clean water, like those in our own country in Flint, Michigan still. In need of food, like the more than one billion people who are hungry or are facing food insecurity. In need of shelter and safety, like the millions of refugees still homeless with no land to return to, hoping for grace and welcome as they flee the destruction of war in Syria, lands of famine and drought in other parts of the world, or areas ravaged by violence like in Central America.
These communities are in need. This is different than want. The rub is that those of us who fall into scarcity mode have the resources entrusted to us not only to live abundantly ourselves, but to help meet the needs of those facing lack of water, food, and shelter. The question is, will we be stewards and show God’s love as God calls us to? Or will we fall into the lies of scarcity to justify the reality that there are some who have and some who don’t in the world? Lies which separate us, and always benefit those who have? (Those at the top of the economic or societal pecking order…) This dichotomy is not new, and looking ahead to the rest of the lectionary year, will be put in front of us, time and time again, by the Gospel of Luke. So perhaps planting this seed this week might lay the groundwork for more thought and preaching to come on this as the year continues.
Now of course there is much more to Psalm 23. It’s full of God’s promises, all of which we respond to through our lives as disciples and stewards. The psalmist proclaims, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, NRSV). God is present in the midst of the good and bad, and this presence is a balm. This verse might take on added meaning if we let ourselves remember that God is beyond gender, or at least not limited to one gender identity. As Good Shepherd Sunday falls on Mother’s Day, perhaps this image of God as comforter might be extra appropriate in your context depending on family relationships and dynamics.
But God does more than this of course too. The psalmist continues, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Psalm 23:5-6, NRSV). God provides. That’s a promise, but it’s not just the bare minimum, “my cup overflows,” meaning that God provides us more than we could ever need or have. And through that provision and entrusting, comes God’s presence beside us, but also God’s call to follow and share God’s love and what God entrusts with the whole world.
The second lesson from Revelation 7 offers reminders of God’s saving work for us, saving work which we can only respond to with joy and gratitude. In this story we are given images like, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10, NRSV).
In this story we are also given and reminded of God’s promises, that God provides for our needs as the Lamb will be the shepherd. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17, NRSV). This last verse echoes Psalm 23 so well in the promise that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It’s a verse of promise often heard at funerals and rightfully so. It’s Good News, and it’s news we each are entrusted with as stewards.
Finally, this good news from the other texts is echoed and amplified in the Good Shepherd gospel text from John 10. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one’” (John 10:27-30, NRSV). As a starting place this is a text all about God and God in Christ. It’s not about us. It’s a declaration that “The Father and I are one.” And out of that relationship comes the promise and reality that we all are known as God’s own.
In terms of stewardship that’s core to our story and to who we are. As is the fact that it is God who is doing the “giving” in this story to us. God’s giving and entrusting is not of a reciprocal nature, nor is it one where there is the assumption that we will return the gift in kind to God. Because we never could match such gifts nor earn them, they are pure gifts. And it’s these pure gifts which all we can do is say thank you for, joyfully, and be so moved by them that we can’t help but want to share them with others.
Long story short, these lessons this week are great ones. And I believe they have much to say on and inform our stewardship too. So in whatever way they inspire you, may God’s promises be with you, and made real through you.
Sunday May 12, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year 1- Week 36)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Paul’s Mission
Focus Passages: Acts 13:1-3, 14:8-18
Gospel Verse: Matthew 10:40-42
The narrative skips ahead a bit this week deeper into Acts. I can’t help but be struck by Barnabas and Paul’s exasperation in this story, but also their hope that through them people might come to see God in Christ and what truly matters. “When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them'” (Acts 14:14-15, NRSV).
In thinking about stewardship I am drawn to the idea that “we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God…” That might sound harsh, but give it a minute. What are the things that captivate us and distract us from God? What has a hold of our lives that might get in the middle or way of our relationship with God? Fear? Money? Whatever the answer, the question, conversation, and preaching might be timely for stewardship in your faith community. Because through raising this, not only are you offering hope and light on something that has been hidden way, that life that is being offered might just be one’s Easter resurrection from what holds them down from embracing our living God’s abundant life which God offers.
The story continues with a little more implications for stewardship. “‘In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them” (Acts 14:16-18, NRSV).
Paul is making the case that God is the one who gives the rains for fruitful harvests, fills the people with food, and their lives with joy. These are just some of what God gives and entrusts. But as Paul finds, even these promises and realities might not be enough (as in verse 18) to convince someone to turn toward God in joy and gratitude, and away from other earthly gods which might captivate.
The story from Acts is connected with Matthew 10:40-42. I want to highlight the whole gospel passage this week because I think it points to a central mark of our stewardship and discipleship. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Matthew 10:40-42, NRSV).
We do all these things as stewards and disciples because God in Christ tells us to, right here. We do them also, because showing welcome and caring for our neighbors is what God does for us. We can’t help but do likewise. And when we do likewise, we really are being the Body of Christ in the world. When we do likewise, some of God’s work is done through us with our hands, hearts, minds, bodies, etc. That’s inspiring. It might be daunting. But it is certainly meaningful, and I would argue is part of what living a meaningful and abundant life as a steward and disciple looks like.
Whatever part(s) of this story draws you in, may God’s love be made known to you, and through you this week.