I’m back from vacation, so that also means it’s a return to more near normalcy here on the blog. As each Monday (when not on vacation) 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 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday July 21, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 16 (Year C)
First Lesson: Genesis 18:1-10a
Second Lesson: Colossians 1:15-28
Gospel of Luke 10:38-42
Most weeks I offer a nugget or two from most (if not all) of the revised common lectionary readings. This week, I think in terms of stewardship it’s pretty much “gospel or bust.” The five verses from Luke 10 that are the gospel story aren’t very long, but the story they tell is quite well known, about Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary.
When it comes to stewardship, I think this is a story about choices, perspectives, and responses. It’s a story with insights on how we choose to go about life, and steward our time. It’s a story also about opening our senses and awarenesses to God’s presence with, around, and for us.
The story begins, “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying” (Luke 10:38-39, NRSV).
In our culture today there is the adage or phrase about “sitting at another’s feet.” This could well trace itself to this story, for two reasons. One, because when one sits at another’s feet, it could be said that they are trying to learn, gain, or even soak in their wisdom and insights. Two, getting on one’s feet is an image that shows up again in the gospels. Though Jesus here is not the one sitting at the feet of another, he will later in his journey to Jerusalem be the one sitting and washing another’s feet as a sign of humble service. Both of these acts are important parts of discipleship and stewardship. Often though it is easier to see the second one show up in our faith communities than the first. And sometimes one might interpret this as a difference between Martha and her sister Mary (though that’s perhaps not really accurate).
The story continues, “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me’” (Luke 10:40, NRSV). As a first-born son, I know full well which of these two sisters I might resonate more with. So I have to be careful here, because I am highly tempted (like many of you probably) to try and defend Martha. But really, this story is a call for us all to take stock of life, and how we are stewarding our time.
What choices have we made recently and why? How have these choices reflected our calls and vocations? How do we react to opportunities, visits, questions, and ideas that come before us? And where have we seen God active and up to something around us lately? Martha is so busy in her own world, perhaps so busy stuck in her own head with her own to-do list, that she is missing the bigger picture here. She is trying to faithfully fulfill her vocation as host and show hospitality to her visitor, but by doing so, she is missing God’s call, invitation, and activity right in front of her face. No doubt we have had this experience many times in our own lives too.
It’s easier to see this perhaps when you have a baby or toddler in the house as I do. Often when I sit for a moment on the couch, I might get out my phone and want to peruse my news-feeds or see what is happening on social media. It would be easy to get lost in looking at my screens. Having a toddler though is a good medicine for this. Because whether I want to put my phone down or not, my daughter will find a way to get my phone or at least get my attention. And really, though that might seem annoying to some, I think it’s quite possibly a God sighting. God is showing up right in front of my eyes in the form of a young child, saying, “hey, wake up.” “I am doing a new thing.” “Something awesome is happening here.” “See the beauty of creation before you.” “Come, join the fun and play with me.”
Of course Martha isn’t a parent to Mary, and Jesus isn’t a toddler in this story. But you get the idea. And the story concludes, “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42, NRSV).
As a doer myself like Martha, that last line from Jesus always stings when I read this story. “Mary has chosen the better part…” But that stinging is a good thing. It catches my attention. The law and gospel together are meeting calling me to wake up, and to move from the lethargy and monotony of the routines of daily life, to be awake, alert, and open to God’s call and activity.
It’s also a call to awaken from the routines of ministry. Some times things in daily life and the church need to change. Sometimes there may be different priorities. During some phases of the church year or perhaps even one’s ministry, one or two parts or things might take precedence, while during another time, something else may need to be more central. Perhaps we’re in one such moment? A moment where as disciples and stewards we need to be more public in our witness, and in living out our vocations and baptismal promises to “strive for justice and peace for all the earth,” than we might otherwise like?
There is a both/and here. But the both/and is held in a tension. If we aren’t caring for the things/ones entrusted to our care and doing the work of our vocations (Martha) it would be fair to say that not much is going to happen. But, on the other hand, if we aren’t paying attention, listening, growing, learning and discerning what God might be up to and active around us and calling us to be a part of (Mary), what is the point of all of our efforts and work? There isn’t any, really.
Martha’s actions are okay, as long as they are the response to Jesus’ call and words of grace and truth. But without them, they aren’t a response at all, and just busyness and time spent not being open to what God might have her do.
If this sounds all too familiar like your average church council meeting or other ministry meeting, or even occasionally your days or evenings at home, you are far from alone here. But perhaps this story is a wake up call for you and for me. Jesus is calling us to pay attention. He is calling us to be intentional, to “come and see that that Lord is good.” And then in seeing and knowing, and listening and wondering, to follow God’s call to us, and live as stewards and disciples as our response.
Now a quick word about one other text this week. Psalm 15 has some observations which might also be helpful related to stewardship. In some ways it reads to me like an echo and expansion really of Micah 6:8. “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15:1-5, NRSV).
I would particularly point to verse 5, and the repetition of the theme about what it means to be a neighbor, disciple, and steward. One who does not “lent money at interest” and does not “take a bribe against the innocent.” Some might quibble with this as a contextual issue, but the reality of wealth disparity continues in our world today. And one of the largest reasons for this disparity is because those who have lots, find ways to maintain their power and position by profiting off another’s lack or disadvantage.
Think for instance about your community. Do you have a number of “pay day lender” type places? If so, have you ever wondered about who might need to use those services and why? Perhaps an unexpected family crisis or medical bill has led to their use, or perhaps an uncertainty about the ability to maintain the family farm? Have you wondered what percentages of interest might be charged? Not to cite one industry, but that example might well be an example in our midst, where one struggling moment in one family’s life may lead to a cycle and trap of poverty. But we as disciples and stewards are called to not create such traps, and especially to work to close such traps and help those who find themselves in such situations. Perhaps this might be one such stewardship example that you could point to this week in your own context that might resonate?
There is much to ponder this week about stewardship in the lectionary readings. Whatever catches your imagination, may you wonder and wrestle with it, and trust that that wonder is God’s call to you to come and see, and to share that God is with you, loves you, and is for you.
The second week of the five week focus on Hebrews includes a large portion of Hebrews 2. And to be honest, in terms of stewardship it doesn’t feel that obvious to me. Certainly you could point to God’s work and promises for you which are recounted in this section. I would certainly do that as a starting place. But if looking for some meat regarding stewardship, I think I would suggest really connecting the Hebrews passage with its suggested accompanying gospel verse from Matthew 12 this week.
Within the gospel text we read, “But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:48-50, NRSV).
In terms of stewardship, I think this week’s story(s) is a call to think about the stewardship of relationships, but also how we as stewards are called into relationship with those near to us, and far from us. It’s a call to be aware of the relationship we are called into as a Child of God, with those we know and those we don’t yet know, as well as those we like a lot, and those we actively try and avoid or think we could never agree with or understand.
In a world as polarized as it seems now, perhaps thinking about this, this week we would be timely. Both as we think about our own communities, but also how in spite of our own understandings or political or social ideas, we are called by God in relationship with each other. And that relationship as a Child of God includes a call to show compassion and care for another, or even as it is made clear in our baptisms “to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
How are we called into relationship with the people who are being held in fenced off cage like areas at the detention centers at our country’s southern border? How are we called into relationship with policy makers and leaders who have created this situation, and who might have the capacity to approach it differently? How are we called into relationship with those communities, neighbors, and countries where those now in detention seeking a better life have fled for fear, violence, or worse?
This isn’t a “both sides” type post though. Jesus is clear here who is mother and brothers are. And frankly, it’s pretty clear that we are sisters and brothers to those who currently find themselves in fear of their lives, locked up, or even afraid that they might be sent back to the troubles, poverty, famine, and violence which they have fled.
In thinking about these texts this week, I wonder who God might be inviting us to see? Who might God be calling us into relationship with? And what action or actions might God be calling us to be a part of as disciples and stewards here and now because of this?
Whatever questions surface for you from these stories, may they lead you to proclaim God’s promises and love, but also God’s call to join in God’s work for justice and peace for all God’s children.