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 Fifth Sunday in Easter are as follows:
The Fifth Sunday of Easter brings more great and familiar readings in the lectionary. Let’s take them in order and see what stewardship nuggets might emerge.
The first lesson from Acts speaks to the inclusivity of God’s love and work, not just limited to one people, community, or nation, but many. “‘And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:15-18, NRSV).
This gift that God has given is to all of God’s children. Think “all” in the most inclusive and expansive of terms here. Where you or I might want to draw a line, a barrier, a wall, etc., God says God loves you and God is for you. In terms of stewardship, this speaks to God’s work and promise that far surpasses our human abilities to comprehend, and far exceeds our human conception of generosity. How might we give thanks for this over inclusivity even if it makes us uncomfortable sometimes? How might we share and steward this love and promise?
The psalmist gives us words that might be the perfect response to this question. The psalmist gives words to the universal praise deserved to the Lord. Praise that gives language and form to our joyful response to all of God’s work done and promised to do, for us. Words like, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!” (Psalm 148:1-4, NRSV)
The second lesson from Revelation offers some famous words and descriptions of God’s promises, activity, and saving work for God’s people. We read, “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life'” (Revelation 21:3-6, NRSV).
This story is so rich. Any one of these observations could make a great stewardship sermon focus and title. The story reminds us that God will dwell with us. That God claims us as God’s people. “Death will be no more.” “Mourning, crying, and pain, will be no more.” God is “making all things new.” God will provide “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” And God is the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” In terms of stewardship, you could point to each of these as a promise of God. You could point to this as God’s work, which we are promised and entrusted with, with the opportunity to say thank you and respond in joy. You could even point to the provision of water, and run with God’s promises of abundance and provision for abundant life. The possibilities are endless because this story is so rich.
Finally, the gospel passage this week includes five familiar verses from John 13, often heard on Maundy Thursday. “When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:31-35, NRSV).
In thinking about stewardship, I wonder what it might mean to sit with the familiar sentences usually preached on Maundy Thursday, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Just as everyone will know that you are disciples by doing this, it could be said interchangeably really that you are stewards. For stewardship and discipleship go hand in hand.
So often we think about these words in the heart of the events of the passion story. I wonder, how might they sound on this side of the resurrection? How might they sound at this point in the liturgical journey, before Jesus leaves the disciples in the Ascension, but does not leave them alone for they will be filled with the Holy Spirit. How have you witnessed your community showing such love recently (or not)?
In Nebraska it would be pretty easy to point to the responses to the floods and blizzards locally, nationally, and internationally for stories. How else might this be true in a new way? And how else, might someone say that they have seen the Lord through you, and that you are a disciple lately by showing such love as Christ calls us all to embody?
In whatever ways you might answer these questions, or through whatever part of whichever one of these four stories grabs your imagination, may God’s love and promise be made known to you and through you.
This week the narrative moves to the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans, centered on the theme of the “Gospel as Salvation.”
Paul begins in gratitude, with words that could be useful for thinking about how such gratitude might show up today through you for your faith community, and through your faith community for God’s presence, promise, and love.
Paul writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:8-12, NRSV).
Read these verses again. Could you imagine saying or writing such words not just to your congregation, but your whole congregation writing and saying such words to the context and community(s) that surrounds it, and that the congregation is a part of? In thinking about stewardship this practice and focus might be timely, especially for contemplating how in the light of the Resurrection this Easter season we are doing as God’s people in sharing God’s love as we are called to do.
Towards the end of this passage, Paul points to the power of God through the gospel. This is a great reminder that it is not our work, it’s God’s. And God’s work and promise is expansive through faith, not just limited to one identity or community, because it is God who is at the center, not someone or something else. Paul writes in what might be the main thesis for the whole letter, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, NRSV).
In thinking about these verses and stewardship, perhaps it might be worth thinking about how we live by faith as stewards and disciples through our stewardship and discipleship. In what ways have you seen or witnessed this in your faith community lately?
The Romans passage is paired with the suggested Gospel reading from Matthew 9 which points to an expansiveness of the Kingdom of God, offered and entrusted to all saints and sinners. As Lutherans would profess, we are all both, sinner and saint, in need of God’s saving work for us, much like Jesus comes to the people in this story today to offer. “And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:10-13, NRSV).
Whatever elements of these stories draw your attention, may God’s reconciling and loving work be made known to you, and through you this week.