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 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday September 1, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 22 (Year C)
First Lesson: Proverbs 25:6-7
Second Lesson: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Gospel of Luke 14:1, 7-14
The fall is coming quickly now, hard to believe, as we are in the last week of August. Sunday brings the beginning of September and Labor Day weekend. Where is this year going? That might be a fair question. But in terms of the readings this week, there seems to be a major push towards welcome, inclusion, justice, and even some stewardship wisdom too.
Psalm 112 is rich with themes of justice and stewardship. The psalmist reasons, “It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice” (Psalm 112:5, NRSV). Part of stewardship is living into the generosity and abundance of God, and embodying that in our own lives. What this looks like, can vary, but it often involves seeing others as oneself, and seeing each other really as Children of God together, and caring for one’s neighbors in need. The psalmist continues, “They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor” (Psalm 112:9, NRSV).
This theme continues in the second lesson from Hebrews this week. The writer of Hebrews begins with what I would probably refer to as defining the complexity and big picture of neighbor love. We read, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:1-3, NRSV).
The writer from Hebrews then moves on to cautions which are also wise nuggets for stewardship. They likely echo Jesus’ awareness that money and property can become an idol and god in and of itself, getting in the way of one’s relationship with God. The writer explains, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NRSV). “Keep your lives free from the love of money…” Abundance isn’t about having everything. It’s about having enough. Being content with what God entrusts, and helping ensure that all have what they need, in that ‘mutual love’ together.
These values and calls for stewardship and discipleship are connected with a couple larger theological points. First, that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever,” (Hebrews 13:8, NRSV) which is a core piece to our faith and an assurance that God is with us, for us, and loves us. And this then connects to a reminder of all that God does, has done, and promises to do, for us. And for that, we can’t help but respond joyfully and gratefully. For the writer of Hebrews this looks like as follows, “Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16, NRSV).
The gospel this week includes two lessons from Jesus about invitation, welcome, and caring for and seeing one’s neighbors. First, Jesus talks about when taking your place around the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:8-11, NRSV).
This story is yet another example of the gospels, and particularly here in the Gospel of Luke, of the great reversal that comes with God. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This isn’t about modesty or false humility. This is about service. Offering space for others. Caring for others. Inviting others. Offering to hold the door, and inviting them to the table before you. In terms of stewardship, this might also be a reminder about how we are to care for each other, and steward our relationships. It’s not all about us, so to speak. So we should never make it all about us. When we do this, we again miss the point and miss God’s work, call, and activity right in front of us.
Jesus isn’t done though offering wisdom in the gospel. He offers this second piece of advice too. Jesus says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14, NRSV). This is Jesus again explaining what the Kingdom of God looks like, in its fullest sense. Not just the practical of those whom one should invite, but more broadly, that all should be invited and are invited by God to places of honor together around the table.
In terms of stewardship this week then, I wonder, how are we doing at following this wisdom from Jesus? How are we inviting all and making space for all, even those who might need some extra help or have some different ideas, perspectives, talents, appearances, financial status, etc., than ourselves? Because as stewards, we are entrusted with all that is God’s to do some of God’s work in the world, and that work is part of what it looks like as the Kingdom of God breaks into our world, bit by bit.
It is the third and final week of this mini-series on creeds. Next week, we’ll begin another trip through the narrative. But until then, we get two of the most well known and central texts to our understanding of faith and how we are the People of God. We get the familiar words of Acts 2 which describe that famous Pentecost experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples and being set loose throughout the world, as well as Jesus’ “Great Commission,” sending us all out as part of God’s work in the world. In terms of stewardship, both are obviously rich stories for stewardship and discipleship.
The famous story in Acts begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV). We know this story well. But in thinking about stewardship, the fourth verse is critical. All of this, all that the people began to be able to do, was “as the Spirit gave them ability.” In terms of stewardship, this is yet another example of God entrusting us with what we have, in part to do some of God’s work in the world.
In seeing and witnessing this, it naturally calls for a response. Perhaps first a very Lutheran like question, as the story continues, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:12-13, NRSV). What does this mean? Indeed. Some will undoubtedly doubt, as we read in the close of Matthew too. But God is up to something, and when you see it and experience it, you can’t help but be in awe, and want to and need to respond at the very least through thanks and praise.
Peter quotes the prophet Joel in explaining what is happening, recalling the on-going story of God and God’s people. He proclaims, “‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18, NRSV). Part of what God entrusts to us in our stewardship is God’s on-going story, but also a call to share it.
This call to share it, is central to the Great Commission. Within that story, there is the acknowledgement that “some doubted,” but because of who God is, God will do God’s thing, and God calls us to turn toward God, and to remember all that God does, has done, and promises to do for us, because of God’s deep love for God’s children. As the gospel explains, “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:17-18, NRSV).
Then comes the climax. The benediction. The sending out, with the reminder that God is with us always. This is our call as stewards and disciples. We are called to this work with God. We are entrusted with what we need to do it. And God is right there with us always, calling us, leading us, and supporting us. As we remember Jesus’ call to us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV).
This is how the gospel ends. A fitting way to end this three-week series on the Creeds, but also this long past year journeying in depth through the themes and story of the Gospel of Matthew. It is one entrusted to each of us. Now let us do as we are called to do through all that we do- as we grow and serve as stewards and disciples of God’s love.