Preaching on Stewardship- August 25, 2019- The Eleventh 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 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday August 25, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 21 (Year C)
First Lesson: Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12:18-29
Gospel of Luke 13:10-17

The lectionary brings us some great texts this week. As I myself am preaching on stewardship this week again, I suspect that I will be preaching primarily from the gospel, though all four texts this week offer nuggets worth considering about stewardship for preaching. Let’s take them in order.

Isaiah 58 points to God’s work, but also our call to be a part of it. It identifies some of the marks of stewardship and discipleship, and how by being in right relationship with God will enable us to be a part of God’s work in the world, but also to see even more clearly God’s work for us and for all creation. The prophet writes, “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9-10, NRSV).

In confessing our sins and shortcomings, we acknowledge and surface that which is in the way of our relationship with God. We also acknowledge that which we have focused on, instead of the work to which God calls us to in our vocations to love and serve one another and God. In this period of ever increasing polarization and “us vs. them” mentalities, Isaiah is offering light on another way. We are to feed the hungry, and satisfy the needs of those who are afflicted. We are to follow the commandments, and not speak evil about one another. This all seems so basic, but for whatever reason, it proves so difficult today when there is seemingly a constant chorus of “my way or the highway,” and little room for nuance, conversation, compromise and middle ground. But when we make room for this, in spite of a culture that might not value these things, we are beginning to live more richly in the life as a disciple and steward.

When we do this, the words of the prophet seem all the more possible and real. Not words of prosperity, but of abundance and relationship with God. Isaiah writes, “The
Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (Isaiah 58:9-12, NRSV). This is God’s work, for us. We’re invited to see it, and be a part of it. But more so, we are invited to give thanks and praise for it, to respond to it by sharing this story, and living as changed Children of God and bearers of God’s light and love in the world.

The psalmist echoes this theme, and focuses especially on who God is for us. The psalmist proclaims, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:2-5, NRSV). This is the saving work of God. It’s the work that we respond to in our stewardship, and proclaim about in sharing the story about God’s promises and work.

The psalmist continues in this vein, in connecting God’s saving work with justice and mercy. This connection points to the Psalmist’s constant reiteration of God’s character and values which the psalmist ends here with, “The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:6-8, NRSV). This is who our God is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And we give thanks and praise because of this, and serve and live joyfully in light of it as stewards of God’s love. 

A full and beautiful summer night moon over the countryside in Nebraska. A sign of God’s light, but also God’s creative work and promises for us.

The second lesson from Hebrews doesn’t have a lot of obvious stewardship wisdom, but it builds on this theme of giving thanks and praise, and it connects it more directly to the steward and disciple’s response to God. We read, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29, NRSV).

Let’s turn toward the gospel. I think this might be the heart of the stewardship message in the lectionary this week. To me, this famous story about Jesus healing a woman on the sabbath, is all about stewardship. It’s about a stewardship of presence– of showing up for the world, being there, and helping where you can. But it’s also about stewardship in the fullest sense- of using the gifts, strengths, tools, talents, and resources you have been entrusted with to care for your neighbor, and do some of the work that God has called you to do in your vocation. 

The story begins. Jesus “was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (Luke 13:10-13, NRSV). God is showing up today in this story. God in Christ is present, doing what only God can do. Bringing salvation and restoration to the woman. And the woman, as a steward should, responds by giving thanks, “praising God.” Because God has done what only God can do.

But, as you know how the story goes and how the world treats such good news, is that it couldn’t help but find something wrong with Jesus’ act. “But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day'” (Luke 13:14, NRSV). Jesus doesn’t hold back. When the world’s rules might say you aren’t to do work on the sabbath, the work of healing, Jesus says, that’s not what the commandments mean at all. The purpose of the law and the commandments is that as Terry Fretheim often said in seminary, “is so that life may go well for you.” And that life, in its fullest sense is both for self and others.

No, Jesus will not be turned away. God has acted, and God will act. Because Jesus, shows up and uses his gifts, talents, and all that he is entrusted with to do what God has called him to do. There is a stewardship message in this to be sure. Of course, Jesus also has the theological depth and biblical foundation on his side too. He could have just quoted the Shema. But instead, as we read Jesus says, “’You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing” (Luke 13:15-17, NRSV).

I love this story. First, because it’s such a good articulation of what God will do and the depths God will go for God’s children. But I also love this, second, because of the response to God’s work which is central to steward. The healed woman praises God as her response. And the crowd, rejoices for all the wonderful things that God has done through Christ, and I would assume, in that rejoicing they share this Good News, which is another part of stewardship.

It’s a great week to preach friends, so I hope that in whatever direction the Spirit moves you, may God’s love and promises be made real for you, and made known through you.

Sunday August 25, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Creeds (Week 2)
Focus Passages: John 1:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

This second week of the three week focus on creeds includes two very familiar texts full of language that are incorporated directly in our creeds which reiterate the core things we hold to be true about our faith. In thinking about stewardship, this could make for a good week to reiterate what those core things are that ground us, guide us, convict us, and lead us out into our lives as stewards and disciples of God’s love.

The Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5, NRSV). This beginning is a great starting place for recalling both God’s work in Christ for us, but also God’s promises, especially that, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

That story of God in Christ, would be unpacked throughout John obviously. But in our appointed text for this weekend, verses 9-14 seem important to also highlight as central to God’s story, our story, and the story that then guides us and calls us to respond in our lives as stewards and disciples. We read, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9-14, NRSV).

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” From that claim, promise, and work we know through baptism, we live, play, grow, and serve washed and wet in those baptismal waters as stewards. And we are sent out with this story. A story as Paul might say seems like foolishness, as he writes, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NRSV).

Paul then pivots again to pointing to how God makes this possible, even if it seems ridiculous to us as human beings. He writes, “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25, NRSV).

As stewards and disciples, we share God’s story and we proclaim Christ crucified as central to it, because it is through Christ that we know God’s love and story most clearly. And it is through Christ’s saving work for us, that not only are we claimed, reconciled, and restored, we then live out our lives as God’s people- telling the stories of God’s love, bearing God’s love for all, as stewards and disciples. 

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