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 Second Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday June 23, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Second Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 12 (Year C)
First Lesson: Isaiah 65:1-9
Second Lesson: Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel of Luke 8:26-39
“You have arrived!” The words of those map apps ring in my ear today. You see, we have arrived at the long green season, the time after Pentecost. It’s probably my favorite time of year for preaching on stewardship because the stories are often rich with how to grow as disciples and stewards, they include gospel stories of Jesus teaching and guiding. They include reminders of God’s promises and presence, and the invitation God offers to us to come and see, but also the invitation for us to join in that work and respond to God’s gifts and promises.
This week’s stories offer this in spades. The first lesson from Isaiah includes a reiteration of God’s promises and love for God’s people. Despite the people time and time again falling short and messing up, God says that there will be a legacy. God reiterates the promise given to Abraham about descendants, but also a promise about land such as was told to the people with Moses freeing their bondage in Egypt. We read, “Thus says the Lord: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there” (Isaiah 65:1-9, NRSV).
This is God’s work for God’s people. Not work that could ever be earned or deserved, nor done by us. And for that, we can only respond with joy and gratitude. Joy and gratitude like the psalmist reiterates this week saying, “You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” (Psalm 22:23-24, NRSV). God is present in the midst. And this offers a further reminder that God is present with us, hears us, cares for us, and does not hide from us.
Psalm 22 also reminds of the promises of provision of God’s abundance, as well as the call for the world to again see, remember, and know God. “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:26-28, NRSV). In terms of stewardship, this is a repetition of the theme throughout the Psalms, like in Psalm 24, where we read, “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…” Here we are reminded that “dominion belongs to the Lord,” and that means that all that is, belongs to God. What we have, really is not ours, but has been entrusted to our care by God.
The second lesson from Galatians is a rather famous one that needs no introduction. In terms of stewardship, I would highlight the reminder of the promises that are offered here again, but also the claim that God has made on and for all of God’s people through baptism. With that baptism, there is no distinction or separation. Rather a promise that transcends any and all human created barriers, boundaries, and divisions.
Paul writes, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29, NRSV).
As we enter this long time after Pentecost, perhaps spending some extended time thinking about how we are all one in Christ Jesus might be helpful? As it also might be timely to remember how comprehensive and extensive God’s promises are, and what it truly might mean to all be “heirs according to the promise.” That’s a gift we could never earn. It’s entrusted. But it also comes with responsibility to live as Jesus calls us in the gospels to love and serve God and all of our neighbors, because we are all one in Christ Jesus after all.
Finally, the Gospel lesson this week is the story often referred to as “The Gerasene Demoniac.” I love this story for so many reasons. Some of this has to do with stewardship, some of this just has to do with the imagery and fun dialogue that happens in this crazy exchange, and it starts right at the beginning of the story.
Jesus gets off the boat, and who is there to greet him? A man who had demons. These demons need no introduction to who Jesus is though, they come right out and call him by name. They know him. Isn’t it interesting, that it is the demons first who acknowledge Jesus’ presence, and not any of the people of the community? We read, “As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man” (Luke 8:27-29, NRSV).
The demons beg for a different outcome, and Jesus agrees. This has to put the swineherds in an awkward spot, don’t you think? Yes, on the one hand as the psalmist says “dominion belongs to the Lord,” and “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” But on the other, to give the permission to enter the swine, is a sure way to impact the swineherds’ livelihoods negatively. But nonetheless it happens. “Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned” (Luke 8:30-33, NRSV).
The natural reaction to this might be disbelief, confusion, bewilderment, fear, terror, even anger at loss of livelihood for the swineherds. That shows up in the story. But another logical reaction might be a grateful and joyful community to have one of its own to celebrate having been met by Jesus and made well. That second reaction doesn’t happen much by the community. In fact, Jesus is bluntly asked to leave.
“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned” (Luke 8:34-37, NRSV).
The community’s reaction is similar to what the world’s reaction might be, when it experiences or witnesses something new, different, or one it can’t quite understand or comprehend. The stewardship reaction to this though would be more on the lines of joy, gratitude, and sharing the story of all that God has done. The man in the story in this sense, is not just a steward, he is living the stewardship life of responding to God’s saving work, love, and promise for him, and sharing that with all he meets. “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38-39, NRSV).
If you’re preaching this week, like me, I would highly encourage you to think about the stewardship reaction of the man healed in this story. This isn’t to hide or sugar coat those who might be sick, dealing with stress, anxiety, mental health challenges, or worse. All of us, and all of our families face these realities. This story isn’t necessarily about that. I believe it’s rather about God coming near, and offering hope, presence, healing, and life. In and out of God’s activity, we are then invited in to live abundantly, which flows out of our response to what God has done.
I wonder, do we go away in fear like the town’s people? Or do we go out with joy like the man in the story, proclaiming and sharing what God has done? My hope is that we may all be so bold as to go out “proclaiming… how much Jesus” has done for us.
The second of four weeks focus on the psalms turns to a psalm of prayer, lament, and hope. On the surface it may not seem the easiest psalm to find some nuggets of stewardship wisdom in. But if you look below the surface, I think there are at least two pieces to ponder as they relate to the majority of the psalm, and the four week series and focus on what the psalms are and include.
First, in spite of the challenges of life, there is an assurance of the psalmist, that God is present in the midst of them. But also, the reiteration, “O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love…” that our God is one of abundant and steadfast love. This abundance and steadfastness is a promise of presence, a promise of being with us, and for us, and of course a reiteration of the promise and trust in God’s deep and abiding love. “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me” (Psalm 69:13-15, NRSV).
In thinking about stewardship, this promise and presence is what grounds us and sends us out. Without it, there really would be no deep reason for us to live and grow as disciples and stewards. The psalmist builds off this point, by also saying that likewise God’s mercy is abundant. “Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me” (Psalm 69:16, NRSV). The hope here is that God will remember and know God’s promises, and then act for the sake of God’s people through grace, love, mercy, and compassion.
Stewardship flows as a response to these promises and work that the psalmist acknowledges we do not deserve, but trusts in the hope that God will be like God has promised to be- one of love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and grace. This trust and hope is a stewardship response. It’s also one of gratitude, acknowledging the goodness of God, giving thanks for it, and praying and hoping that it will continue to be extended. One of the ways of course that this might happen, is through God working through, with, around, and under God’s people through our stewardship of all that God entrusts to our care.
This psalm is paired with Matthew 7:7-11 this week. It’s a famous passage with rich stewardship implications. The challenge in preaching on it, is not to fall into a possible stewardship trap of only if you “ask enough,” “pray hard enough,” or “do enough,” then God will answer. No. That’s not what this story is saying, but it can be corrupted like that and has been, especially in the creation and expansion of an understanding of the “Prosperity Gospel.”
Rather, Jesus is reminding God’s people to pray. He is reminding us that God is with us, and wants to be in relationship with us. That doesn’t mean all will always be easy. It doesn’t mean that what we want will always come to fruition. But what God does promise, is presence with us and love for us. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11, NRSV)
God will act as a parent does. But not just for a few people. God does and will do this for all of God’s people, because they are all of God’s children. That’s a stewardship promise, and it’s one we as stewards rejoice in, give thanks for, and be swept up in, that as God’s children, we feel called to do likewise with God’s children near and far also in need of love, and help, like us.