Preaching on Stewardship- July 28, 2019- The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

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Each week 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 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday July 28, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 17 (Year C)
First Lesson: Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Second Lesson: Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]
Gospel of Luke 11:1-13

This week’s appointed stories in the lectionary are rich with possibilities for stewardship. Let’s start with Psalm 138, and then we’ll checkout Colossians 2 and Luke 11.

Psalm 138 begins as a Psalm of thanks and praise, a natural starting place for thinking about stewardship and our response. The psalmist declares, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down towards your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything” (Psalm 138:1-2, NRSV).  The psalmist is giving us words for our joyful and grateful response to God for all that God has done, and is clear here about what God’s work is (which is not ours), but that we can join in out of joy, gratitude, and God’s call and invitation to us.

But wait, there’s more. The psalmist continues with more praise of God as well as descriptions of what this praise is (and/or could/should look like), but also some more nuance as to what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us. “All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.  For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away” (Psalm 138:4-6, NRSV). The psalmist is repeating the theme of reversal of the lifting up the lowly, etc. These themes of course are consistent throughout scripture, especially in the prophets and the gospels.

The psalm closes with a bit of solace similar to that in the famous Psalm 23. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures for ever. Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:7-8, NRSV). These are reminders of God’s work, and particularly saving work for God’s people. This is Good News. And it’s work God does for God’s people that we can’t help but be grateful, thankful, and even joyful for. This calls us to respond and to lean into that gratitude and joy to join in God’s work.

Speaking of God’s work, that is highlighted especially in the passage from Colossians 2 this week. Colossians connects the baptismal identity with life with God, and living out our life through our vocations. We read, “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths” (Colossians 2:12-16, NRSV).

There’s a lot in these five verses from Colossians 2. But it could be a great story to think and dig into, especially when it comes to thinking about how stewardship flows out of our baptisms. From those waters, God claims us, we are made new in Christ, and washed, called and sent in God’s love for our vocations, freed not condemned to life together. The hard work of salvation has already been done for us, and we could not earn that. Instead we live on this side of the resurrection. What might that mean then for us today especially in your context?

Turning to the Gospel of Luke, the great hits just keep coming. Right after Jesus visits with Martha and Mary, which came just after his conversation with a man trying to justify himself about eternal life and what it means to love one’s neighbor with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is invited to talk about prayer.

Jesus, “was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial’” (Luke 11:1-4, NRSV).

The Lord’s prayer needs no unpacking. But in terms of stewardship, I am drawn especially to Jesus’ pointing here to “Your kingdom come,” meaning God’s kingdom come. It’s God’s kingdom that we are praying for, and hoping to participate in. “Give us each day our daily bread,” is a plea for enough. It’s not a plea for “more, more, more,” but that the basic needs of life might be provided and that we all, as God’s children can participate in God’s abundance. 

The story this week doesn’t end there though. Jesus moves from the prayer to some explanation and unpacking of it. Jesus continues, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:5-8, NRSV).

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Throughout the back of the sanctuary and the Fellowship Hall of St. Mark’s Lutheran in St. Paul, Nebraska, there are footsteps leading to the words “Walking with God” over the doors to greet and send people as they depart. I love this. I love each of the footsteps, because each one has a different act, event, and ministry in action through which we serve and grow as stewards and disciples.

Jesus is making the connection here not to as some might suppose a prosperity gospel, but rather to a gospel reminder that God provides and sometimes (if not often) that provision shows up through us (and through our neighbor for us and for each other). When we think in stewardship about God entrusting us with what we have, this is really what the ramifications of this means. 

This week’s story concludes with a bit more reasoning from Jesus. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to 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 a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’” (Luke 11:9-13, NRSV)

Jesus is again pointing to the reminder that God provides, more so even than we provide. God’s love is deeper and more abounding than any other love, and that love not only can do the indescribable, it also often shows up in doing the ordinary of meeting daily needs of food, water, and shelter so that one may have life and live it abundantly. And again, sometimes we are called to be bearers and participants of that love and work ourselves together too.

There is so much stewardship depth this week. Whatever direction, or whatever story moves you, and the Holy Spirit leads you towards, may God’s love and abundance be made known and real to you and through you.

Sunday July 28, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Hebrews (Week 3)
Focus Passages: Hebrews 4:14-5:10
Gospel Verse: Matthew 26:36-40

This week continues our five week journey through Hebrews. Like last week, there isn’t quite the most obvious stewardship nuggets to consider within this. Though I think there are some pieces definitely worth a deeper look.

For starters, perhaps Hebrew 4 concludes with what might be considered a type of response of gratitude for what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us. We read, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NRSV). That mercy and grace here are gifts of God. They aren’t earned (nor could they ever be) but rather given and entrusted by God because that is what God does.

I appreciate in Hebrews 5 particularly what I sense is an articulation of what it means to be a leader, servant, disciple and steward. Because in these roles and callings, God entrusts us with unique things needing to do that which God has called us to do and be a part of. “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:1-4, NRSV).

The reading this week ends with another excellent reminder that this is God’s work for us, particularly God’s work in Christ. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NRSV). With that reminder understood that this is what God in Christ does for us, then we can think about how we respond through our lives as stewards and disciples.

Hopefully one of these ideas inspires about stewardship, but whatever direction calls you this week, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you.

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