After a few weeks off because a crazy schedule and Synod Assembly here in Nebraska, I am back in the rhythm where 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 Day of Pentecost are as follows:
Pentecost is, in some ways, the day the church was born. It’s also a day which perhaps better than most, reminds us that this is God’s work, and not ours. For we could never do the sort of things that the Triune God does in these familiar stories. We’ll take these in order as listed this week.
If you don’t read these four verses in worship this week, I would have to wonder if you could actually faithfully say that you are preaching and worshiping on Pentecost. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV).
I love the images in this story, but especially the last sentence. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit,” and they spoke and did “as the Spirit gave them ability.” In terms of stewardship what a beautiful reminder this is that God entrusts to us all that makes us who we are– our gifts, talents, strengths, passions, etc. It is God the Spirit who as this story says, gives the ability.
For this, we can’t help but be amazed, joyful, and grateful. And I love this story in part because the question that is at the center of the catechism is asked so boldly right here within it, “What does this mean?” We read, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine’” (Acts 2:12-13, NRSV).
A good Pentecost sermon might just take this question head on and wonder, “What does this mean?” Or by extension, “what now Holy Spirit?” Or, “why church?” All of these questions might be answers to those who doubt or sneer, and to a world around us which says “me, me, me” and “buy, buy, buy,” instead of the Kingdom of God which calls us to be “with” and about one another, and to live into abundance and not give into the sins and lies of scarcity. The Acts story is rich and has more in it, but in terms of stewardship this would be a good start.
Psalm 104 offers familiar words with stewardship wisdom too. As we recall the psalmist’s decree in Psalm 24 that “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it,” we are reminded here that, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”(Psalm 104:24, NRSV). God has made all that is, and the earth is indeed full of God’s creatures. Lest we forget, each of us has been made by God, and we are all God’s creatures. It’s important to notice the possessive. We are God’s. So in terms of stewardship, that means we are all God’s- all that makes us who we are. And that matters greatly.
As this is Pentecost, this truth of relationship is borne out in the work of the Spirit. In the creative work all around us, and the work to which we are called, as well as the provision for us in abundance, and God’s call to us to care for all of creation as God’s stewards and disciples. The psalmist reminds about all of God’s creatures and creation, “These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:27-30, NRSV).
For this work and these promises, we can’t help but give our thanks and praise. And the psalmist, as is often the case, provides deep words of gratitude that well frame our joyful response God’s work and promises for us. “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord” (Psalm 104:33-34, NRSV).
The second lesson from Romans 8 includes the wonderful reminder of relationship as we are claimed by God, and named inheritors of the promise. It’s a reminder of God’s work and promise for us, one which we are led by the Spirit, and claimed as Children of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17, NRSV).
The great texts just keep coming, with the Gospel of John and the words about the Advocate. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:15-17, NRSV). It is the Advocate through whom and with that we do God’s work. It is the Advocate through whom we live as stewards and disciples, building up God’s kingdom, and seeing and responding to the needs of our sisters and brothers all across the world.
Through the Advocate, we will grow, serve, and live. Jesus continues with words we have heard in worship a lot lately thanks to the lectionary, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:25-27, NRSV).
All in all, Pentecost is a great week. It also happens to be a great week to preach and think about stewardship. What might God be up to? Where might the Holy Spirit be leading and moving? Where might she be calling us to next? And all together, what does this mean?
In whatever way you might answer these questions, or in whatever way the Spirit leads you, may God’s spirit of truth and love be felt and heard by you, and may God’s love and promises made known through the Spirit be shared through you this week.
Sunday June 9, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- Day of Pentecost (Year 1- Week 40)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Nothing Can Separate Us
Focus Passages: Acts 2:1-4 and Romans 8:14-39
Gospel Verse: Matthew 28:16-20
Pentecost is, in some ways, the day the church was born. It’s also a day which perhaps better than most, reminds us that this is God’s work, and not ours. For we could never do the sort of things that the Triune God does in these familiar stories. For the Acts readings, I would direct you to reading the first part of the Revised Common lectionary thoughts above, as they would be the same for me for the RCL and Narrative this week.
Now for Acts 2:1-4, I would consider highly including Acts 2:13-14, as to also hear the question we hear in our catechism, “What does this mean?” Because this question could be answered with the promises told in Romans 8 and the commands and commission given in Matthew 28. As the Spirit coming into the world might mean, that with and through God, nothing can separate us. And with God and the Holy Spirit we are sent to baptize and teach, sharing God’s love here, there, and everywhere.
The lesson from Romans 8 includes the wonderful reminder of relationship as we are claimed by God, and named inheritors of the promise. It’s a reminder of God’s work and promise for us, one which we are led by the Spirit, and claimed as Children of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17, NRSV).
As it is Pentecost, it might also be a fruitful time in terms of stewardship to think about the “first fruits of the Spirit” and hope. We read, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:22-25, NRSV). It is this hope which propels our stewardship. Without hope, why would we live as the stewards we are called and created to be? Without hope, why would we go out in the world to serve, and come back to worship together as God’s people? Without hope, why would we do any of what we do as God’s people, really?
Now of course there are times when hope seems fleeting or absent. And it is in these times even more so, where the Spirit is there. Holding us and supporting us. Reminding us by the Spirit’s very presence, that God is with us, loves us, and is for us. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28, NRSV).
Paul boldly asks after this treaties on the Spirit, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:31-32, NRSV). In terms of stewardship this is a reminder of the depths to which God will go and does go for us. And it is to the depths to which there is literally nothing that can separate us from God’s love for us. (Though there is plenty that can get in the way between us and God if we let them, causing us to turn away from God who is always there, with us, whether we know it or not.)
The promise at the heart of this famous passage is that “nothing can separate us” from our God who loves us, is with us, and is for us. We read again the promise that Paul puts so eloquently, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV).
Romans 8 is full of important words, with plenty to preach on. Acts 2 is full of the Pentecost story, which itself has plenty to preach on. And what does the Narrative offer for a gospel accompaniment, just the closing words of Matthew, closing Year 1 of the Narrative cycle with the famous and central arc to the Gospel Text of the Great Commissioning. Jesus declares, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship, a few things to remember with these full and rich texts: 1) Nothing can separate us from God’s love and presence; 2) God is with us (both as Jesus says in Matthew 28, and as the presence of the Holy Spirit indicates); 3) These promises are met by a command to go and baptize and teach, sharing God’s love, which is possible because of God’s work for us, God’s presence with us, and God’s promises and love for us.
In whatever direction the Spirit might lead you this week, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you as the Spirit provided that first Pentecost day so long ago.