Preaching on Stewardship- August 11, 2019- The Ninth 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 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday August 11, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 19 (Year C)
First Lesson: Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Second Lesson: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Gospel of Luke 12:32-40

This week’s stories paint a picture about God’s promises and work for us, a call to be alert and be ready, and to be intentional about all that is in our life so that it doesn’t come to keep us from seeing God and being ready when God shows up, and/or to receive God’s call and invitation to us. In terms of stewardship, I think you could find a stewardship sermon or at least one stewardship nugget out of any of the four main lectionary texts this week.

The first lesson from Genesis includes one of the most beautiful images in all of the scriptures. These words really need no introduction from God to Abraham about Abraham’s descendants to come. “He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV). I can almost guarantee my wife will probably include these verses when preaching later this week. This is one of her favorite stories, and I love it too.

I love this story because it highlights God’s promises- for provision, for legacy, and God’s work for us. It also calls us to imagine and see how each and everyone of us as a Child of God can trace our legacy back in some way to this promise of God to Abraham. We each are as beautiful as a star in the heavens. Think about that for a moment. That speaks to God’s creative and imaginative work. It speaks to God’s call and what God entrusts to each of us. But it also speaks to God’s love for us, each created in the Image of God, each a Child of God, but with unique gifts, passions, and traits, called to unique vocations as God calls us to use the gifts God entrusts to do some of God’s work in the world.

From the image of legacy and promise of descendants in the first lesson, the Psalm reiterates the promises of God’s saving and salvific work. The psalmist proclaims, “Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Psalm 33:18-22, NRSV). These promises of God, and this work, is for us. Even if it’s not always visible, these promises provide hope, they ground us, and make possible the work of discipleship and stewardship to which we are called, and they push us onward to share the story of God’s promises and saving work for us and for all of God’s beloved children.

From hope in Psalm 33, we move to a discourse on faith in the second lesson from Hebrews. The epistle begins, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV). We cling to this. We cling to faith, even in the hard times.

In terms of stewardship this week, perhaps some thoughts about faith and how we are called and entrusted with this gift might be timely. For it is this faith that we cling to even (and perhaps especially) when we live in a world that seems at times to be going mad- a world where the sins of hatred, racism, sexism, othering, anti-immigrant and refugee rhetoric and more seem to be on the rise. We cling to it, when such rhetoric leads to the horrific madness of gun violence tragedies which again were visited on communities of our country this past weekend (El Paso and Dayton, and last week Gilroy, CA too).

We cling to it, even as we know the constant refrain of “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. When God calls us to pray, it’s not just a spoken thing. When we pray, we also pray that God would use us, and call us to act. God has been calling us to act ever since the first one of these major gun violence episodes happened over twenty years ago in Columbine. God has been calling us to act ever since. Yet it is a fair question, are we listening. Have we listened? Will we change? Will we be bold enough to move from thoughts and prayers, to living out our call to work for justice and peace in all the earth?

I have faith that we will, and that we will not give in to the evils and powers that corrupt of this world- powers like politicians who give in to strong special interests and lobbies over the sanctity of life and each person’s ability to pursue a life of peace and happiness. I have faith that we will, and that we will not give into the cynicism that nothing can be done about the gun epidemic that continues to plague us. But even more so, I have faith in God that God will not continue to let us go down this path. God is calling us out of our sins and brokenness. God is providing hope in the midst. And God is pointing to another way– the way of life in Christ, the way of welcome to all around God’s banquet table, and the ways of the Kingdom of God which are not the ways the powers that be of this world might have us go.

The writer of Hebrews expands on faith by connecting it to the story of some of our fathers of the faith, including Abraham who was at the center of the first lesson this week. We read, “By faith he (Abraham) stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NRSV). Abraham knew that even when it might not seem apparent, God is active and up to something.

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Caroline and a few of her friends are admiring the fountain on an adventure. I can’t help but wonder if they are offering a reminder today of the promises of God they know in their baptisms? If so, perhaps they are offering us a reminder today about God’s love and promises for us that might be even deeper than any words I or you might write or say.

God has promised, and when God makes promises that matters. God does not relent on God’s promises, rather God may get even more stubborn. When the world said death and darkness was the way, God said, no more by sending the Son. This God does, because of God’s deep love for us that we could never do ourselves, or ever earn or deserve. It’s a pure gift. And for that, through faith, we give thanks and praise. And then we respond. And that’s where a life of stewardship comes in (or doesn’t, if we choose to do nothing, or to ignore God’s call to act and serve, etc.).

The gospel picks up on these themes this week. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32, NRSV). This is a declaration from Jesus about why God is doing what God is doing, and for whom God does this. God is giving the kingdom to God’s children, because God loves us so much. This love overcomes all that is- the good, bad, and really bad and ugly of this life.

Yet, even with this promise, Jesus knows how hard it is for us to trust this gift. Jesus knows how hard it is to respond to it as we ought. Jesus knows what all might get in the way of joining in the work and building up of the Kingdom of God as it breaks in, little by little, bit by bit, into our world, now and not yet. This is why Jesus offers one of his most direct lessons and calls about money, wealth, and possessions as part of this story. He says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34, NRSV).

Jesus says to “sell your possessions, and give alms.” He is calling us to remove that which might be a barrier between us and God in our relationship with God. He is calling us to be mindful of what we have as entrusted by God to us, and to consider how we are using it. Is God’s work being done through it? Are we living abundantly with it or because of it? Are people being served and cared for as God calls us to care for them, through these things? If not, then please do sell and give, so that more of God’s work can be done.

Jesus also warns, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This repeats the warning of the story we heard last week in the lectionary about the man with too many crops and who thought it would be wise to build bigger barns instead of sharing the abundance. If all we care about is getting “more, more, more,” then we have missed the point. Our heart is not turned toward God. If all we care about is having something, or spending time doing a certain thing, so much so that we stop opening the scriptures, coming to worship, serving those in need and growing as a disciple because of it, it’s fair to wonder, if perhaps we have made something else into our god, and that is where our treasure might be?

If that’s the case, this is Jesus calling us again to wake up. To change. To turn toward God, and again to be rich in God and to live abundantly. When we are turned away, it is so easy to give into ourselves and to think that we are the ones who make things happen in the world. It’s so easy to rely on ourselves, that we forget God’s very real presence with us. Though riches and having many possessions and things is not a guarantee in itself of troubles with faith, Jesus knew well that they could easily get in the way of our relationship with God.

This story from Jesus is also a warning like we might hear in Advent, to be ready and be awake. God is active and up to something. We may not always be able to predict what it is, but we are called to be alert and ready to God’s invitation and activity all around us. To this end, Jesus says, “‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:35-36, NRSV). And if that isn’t clear enough, he adds for good measure, “‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’” (Luke 12:39-40, NRSV).

These stories are rich with stewardship wisdom, insights, and challenges this week to be sure. Whatever direction the Spirit moves you as you dig into these stories, may God’s love and promises be real for you, and made known through you.

Sunday August 11, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Hebrews (Week 5)
Focus Passages: Hebrews 11:1-16 [12:1-2]
Gospel Verse: Matthew 8:5-10

Congratulations! You have made it to week five, of this five week journey through Hebrews. To be perfectly honest, it is a book I struggle with to some degree when thinking about stewardship. But there are still pieces of stewardship wisdom to consider from it. Chapter 11 in particular offers a number of them.

Hebrews 11 begins, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV). Interestingly enough, a good portion of this reading this week is also the second lesson in the revised common lectionary. So as I said above, we cling to this faith that the writer of Hebrews is describing. We cling to faith, even in the hard times. In terms of stewardship this week, perhaps some thoughts about faith and how we are called and entrusted with this gift might be timely. (For more on this, please scroll above to the revised common lectionary reflections).

The writer of Hebrews expands on faith by connecting it to the story of some of our fathers of the faith, including Abraham who was at the center of the first lesson this week. We read, “By faith he (Abraham) stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NRSV). Abraham knew that even when it might not seem apparent, God is active and up to something.

God has promised, and when God makes promises that matters. God does not relent on God’s promises, rather God may get even more stubborn. When the world said death and darkness was the way, God said, no more by sending the Son. This God does, because of God’s deep love for us that we could never do ourselves, or ever earn or deserve. It’s a pure gift. And for that, through faith, we give thanks and praise. And then we respond. And that’s where a life of stewardship comes in (or doesn’t, if we choose to do nothing, or to ignore God’s call to act and serve, etc.).

In recalling the story of some of the fathers of the faith, the writer of Hebrews acknowledges that they themselves may not have seen all of the promises fulfilled in their lifetime. But they rested in the promises of the faith, promises that we ourselves are baptized, sealed, called, and claimed with. “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16, NRSV).

The appointed reading, includes the option of including 12:1-2 as well. I would encourage you to include these two verses, not just because they make for a beautiful benediction, they are a clear articulation of God’s promises and work for us. They also might well articulate our call as stewards of all that God entrusts. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV).

What a life of living Hebrews 12:1-2 looks like would be one of a deep and growing faith I imagine, and especially one of growing and deepening sense of discipleship and stewardship. It might be a life like resting in God’s promises so much, that you know God’s saving work is real even like the centurion in the included gospel story this week who believes that all God in Christ needs to do, is to say the words to act. That is a deep faith.

Jesus says as much as the story goes, “The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 10When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:8-10, NRSV).

Thinking about stewardship this week, I wonder, how does our stewardship point to, share, and tell the story of what it looks like and means to live and grow in the faith which God has called us to and entrusts to us as a gift? If our stewardship doesn’t do this, I wonder if it’s really stewardship at all, or merely just using church-y words to justify human created concerns that aren’t at their core about doing God’s work in the world- of lifting up the lowly, caring for the stranger, showing love to the neighbor, seeing each other, and being the Body of Christ together.

Whatever idea(s) captures your imagination this week about faith, may God’s love and promises which are at the core and central to our faith hold you, and may they lead you to proclaim the Good News of our God who loves us, is with us, and is for us this week.

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