Preaching on Stewardship- August 4, 2019- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

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 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday August 4, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 18 (Year C)
First Lesson: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-12
Second Lesson: Colossians 3:1-11
Gospel of Luke 12:13-21

What a week to preach on stewardship friends! The gospel story from Luke 12 at the heart of this week’s appointed lectionary readings, is one of my favorite stewardship stories in all of the gospels. It also might be one of the hardest ones to preach on. (For more on this check out Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner’s take on the “Poor Fool” here.) It’s a familiar story to be sure, but it’s one that can either easily stress you out, or be too tempting to deflect as being about someone else who is perhaps richer than you are, rather than to sit with the story and see if it might just be about you, too.

It all begins with someone trying to get Jesus to take their side in what sounds like some sort of family argument. I don’t think this person knows what they are getting themselves into, though they should if they have been paying attention to Jesus’ teaching by now. Nevertheless, “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’” (Luke 12:13-15, NRSV).

Jesus’ warning seems pretty clear here. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Perhaps this is a warning for all of us who have too much stuff. Perhaps this a warning to realize that as we hoard, or keep things for ourselves instead of sharing them with those in need, or as we fail to be content with ‘enough,’ and rather have a ‘more, more, more’ attitude, we are turning things, wealth, and greed into idols. Worse yet, maybe not just idols, but gods themselves.

Jesus is pretty clear about the challenges and dangers of money, wealth, and possessions. They aren’t necessarily bad on their own, but as one has them, they can easily get in the way of one’s relationship with God. As one orients towards them as goals in life, one loses sight of who (God) has done the entrusting of these resources to us and for what end; one loses sight of neighbors around them, and how God might be calling one to see another and care for them. As one loses this orientation to neighbor, they lose sight of how they are called to see and be a part of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

This is so important to Jesus, that he talks about money, wealth, and possessions more in the gospels than any other topic except for the Kingdom of God, itself. Jesus talks about it so much, because he knows how hard it is and will continue to be as God’s children to live with such things as a real part of life.

But wait, there’s more. We haven’t even gotten to the parable included in this week’s story. Jesus continues in responding to the comment from the person in the crowd with a story about a rich man.

Jesus explains, “‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God’” (Luke 12:16-21, NRSV).

We might like to think that this story is about those people over there, who have more than us. You know that family with its monster home, brand new truck, fancy swimming pool to keep cool during the summer heat. Or that family with its own airplane or even its name on hotels. And though, yes, this story might be about them, it doesn’t mean it’s not about us too.

Fair question. Are we storing up treasures for ourselves here on earth? And if so, to what end? The psalmist is pretty clear this week like the old adage says, “you can’t take it with you” (in Psalm 49). It’s a fair question of whether we are doing this. And it might be just the time to have to wrestle with this fair but hard question. Is it time to reorient ourselves towards God, and evaluate that which has taken over our lives, purviews, to-do lists? Is it time to look at our calendars, and the way we spend our time, and see if we’re doing as God might call us to do?

Confession and forgiveness. We do it every week (and sometimes more often), because we need to. All of us. But the forgiveness and reminder of God’s love is not a free pass. In God’s showing up and being with us, in our turning toward God, we are changed. And that change then leads us to confront the hard stuff and hard questions of life. This week is a golden opportunity to do just this.

Back in May I visited Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord, Nebraska. While there I saw this wooden brick they had up front by their altar from Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Syracuse, Nebraska. The brick says, “Remember, Rejoice, and Reach Out!” What great words for ministry and stewardship. And what a great example this brick is, of one congregation holding another in their prayers all year in the Nebraska Synod. But also, what a great reminder for us about what it is we are called to do, and to remember and rejoice whose we are- God’s. 

How are we doing at stewarding that which God has entrusted to our care? To whom do we go? Are we caring for what has been entrusted, for the sake of our neighbors and sisters and brothers in Christ near and far? Or, have we lost sight of the bigger picture because of our own wants, desires, and closed off or even selfish world views?  

Fair questions. Hard questions. They are made all the harder when we look at the world around us, and see example after example of people in positions of authority turning their backs on those in need. I speak specifically today of leaders in our own country who are closing off most (if not all) means to asylum seeking refugees searching for a safe and welcoming place to call home for self and family. I speak specifically today of leaders in our own country who denigrate neighborhoods and cities who may not look like themselves or be a place they would like to visit, even though as a leader they are called to care and lead these communities too. I speak specifically today of leaders who either are ignorant to how they might be perpetuating -isms that divide us, or willfully perpetuate these sins…

The list is long that one could highlight here. And they are all worthwhile problems, challenges, sins and injustices that we as the faithful are called to shed light on and offer another way forward too. But we can’t just blame others for this. We can’t just blame a broken world or system that we are a part of, especially as many of us, like myself, benefit from its brokenness because of the position of privilege that such systems might provide someone like me with (ie- a married straight white male, etc.). We all must look in the mirror.

This is a hard story. It’s one about me, you, and all of us. But it’s one Jesus tells because Jesus loves us. He wants to be in relationship with us, so much that he will do all he can- to go even to the point of the embarrassment of a trial, death on a cross, a tomb, and the resurrection, for us because God loves us, is with us, and is for us. But he knows, even doing this, it will still be hard for us always to remember this- God’s promises for us, and God’s presence with us- because there is so much in life that can get in the way of our seeing and sensing God, of our following and answering God’s call to serve, and of our willingness to be bearers of love, mercy, and justice that God calls us to, and which we have all promised to be in our baptisms in which God has claimed us as God’s own once and for all.

And as we remember these promises, as we remember who God is for us, we proclaim and point to another way. Instead of building bigger barns and silos, perhaps God is inviting us to share? Instead of tearing down an existing building, perhaps God is inviting us to see new ways to use that which God has already entrusted to us? Instead of thinking about ourselves, perhaps God is inviting us to see and notice someone else outside of our families or normal peer groups or even someone outside of our usual congregation? We might well already have what we need to do God’s work, but what we might need to is to open up the imagination to what that work is here, now, and today. 

Boy, I told you I love this story and that is a hard one. I didn’t realize I wanted to preach on it so much. But here you go, if you are looking for a nugget in the RCL on stewardship, I think I gave you a year’s full of them from this one story. If you need more, a couple passing comments on the other texts to ponder.

From Ecclesiastes 2:18-23, we are invited to wonder about our vocations, work, and legacy. Are these offerings about us? If so, it’s all vanity. But if they are about others, and about God’s work being done, perhaps they are not so much vanity, but something bigger than ourselves.

Psalm 49 echoes the theme of this week’s gospel story and what I suspect are some of Jesus’ points in sharing this parable this week. The psalmist asks, “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it. For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice that one should live on forever and never see the grave. When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:5-10, NRSV).

We all die. Our culture is so afraid of death, we hardly talk about it outside of church, and even in church I don’t think we talk about it enough. Perhaps this week might be a week to think about legacy, but also about God’s promises in the midst, and God’s call to us to free ourselves from what holds us back from experiencing God’s true abundance, love, and joy.

Finally, from Colossians 3, if you need a reminder to walk that line this week and not fall into the trap of blaming others or thinking it’s all about “them” – the rich people over there who aren’t me, we are confronted by this. “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!) (Colossians 3:8-11, NRSV).

Like I said, what a week to preach on stewardship. Wherever these stories take you this week, may God’s love, promises, and call be real for you and shared through you.

Sunday August 4, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Hebrews (Week 4)
Focus Passages: Hebrews 9:1-14
Gospel Verse: Matthew 12:1-6

The fourth of five weeks in our journey through Hebrews means more digging into a deep theology, but also a deep explanation of practices of the faithful. In terms of stewardship, it’s again not the most apparent text for preaching on stewardship.

A couple things to note though for possibilities, wondering, and discernment. Consider Hebrews 9:8-10. “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right” (Hebrews 9:8-10, NRSV).

This passage might present a good opportunity to think, talk, teach, or preach on what is the offering, why we offer and receive it, and also what it is not. When we offer our offerings, we are responding to God’s work and promises for us, and also offering a portion of that which God has first entrusted to our care back to God, to be used in God’s work in the world.

In building on this point, verses 13-14 might be particularly helpful or timely. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14, NRSV)

In terms of stewardship, these verses reorient the story. It’s God’s work that is being done, for us through Christ. And to this- our lives, our offerings, and all that we are- are our joyful and grateful response to God. Framed like this, it might be a great week to preach on stewardship, even if not obviously so at first glance.

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