Each week on the blog I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. Since it’s pretty late in the week this week, this week’s sampling will be a bit shorter than usual, just to try and give a couple quick highlights if helpful. This week’s nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday September 15, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 24 (Year C)
First Lesson: Exodus 32:7-14
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel of Luke 15:1-10
There’s something about the stories this week that just get me excited, and especially grateful for God. In the first lesson, we recall the story of Moses and God discussing the golden calf and what God will do to the people who have turned from God and made an idol. God wants to throw hands in the hair, and start from scratch. But Moses speaks on the people’s behalf. He says to God, “Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever'” (Exodus 32:12-13, NRSV).
Moses is recalling God’s promises and saving work for creation and God’s people. And in recalling this and reminding God of this, God does something that seems amazing. God changes God’s mind. “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14, NRSV). Thanks be to God, that God changed God’s mind. And thanks be to God for Moses speaking on the people’s behalf.
In terms of stewardship, I love this story. In this case Moses is reminding God and himself of who God is, “gracious and merciful. Slow to anger. And abounding in steadfast love,” as the psalmist might say. When God changes God’s mind, God offers grace and mercy. That’s a gift, we can only say thank you for, and live gratefully and joyfully and changed because of it. In repenting, we turn toward God and ask God not only to change us, like the psalmist proclaims this week, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, NRSV), but we also ask God to use us to do some of God’s work in the world. That could be a great stewardship angle to dig into.
Alternatively, perhaps it might be worth wondering about, if God can change God’s mind about somethings, shouldn’t we be able to change our mind about somethings too? With new information and learning that God has entrusted to us, could it be that God is calling us to see somethings in a new way? These questions might open oneself up and perhaps a whole faith community to wonder about what sort of new things God might be doing in your midst, and perhaps what sort of new things or ideas God is calling us to see and consider today? (And as hard as it is to admit, perhaps we also might admit as God does in changing God’s mind, we don’t always know everything or have every thing figured out perfectly, do we? Or at the very least, perhaps we need to take a breath before we let our anger and emotions get the better of us so that they might not lead us to do something we would likely later regret…)
If connecting the first lesson and psalm aren’t calling to you regarding stewardship, perhaps this week’s gospel story about repenting and rejoicing with God in finding the lost might? The story this week involves Jesus talking about this deep theological truth using a couple stories, one about the lost sheep, and another about the lost coin.
Let’s focus briefly on the second one. Jesus teaches, “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10).
When have you lost someone or something, and then found it after a long time or at least after a hard search? Did you celebrate? Give thanks? Express gratitude? That’s what God does for us, each one of us, God’s children when we turn toward God and repent. It’s no surprise really that these stories lead right into Jesus’ longer story still about finding one who is lost, the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
In terms of stewardship, perhaps this week’s gospel story is a good story to lift up the importance of celebration. Perhaps it has been a quiet summer, and people have returned? If so, celebrate. Perhaps things have been a little strange lately, but suddenly you have some clarity as a congregation in your sense of call? If so, celebrate that clarity, and use it, to affirm or reaffirm your mission and call as the People of God in your community to do some of God’s work in the world, and to point to God’s activity, as well as to recall and share God’s promises and saving work for all. It’s a great combination of stories that point to God’s celebration for us, and that might just give us pause to celebrate for God’s saving work for us, too. What a joyful thing to give thanks for and respond to, God’s good gifts and promises for us.
Sunday September 15, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Week Two (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Isaac Born to Sarah
Focus Passages: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
Gospel Verse: Mark 10:27
God’s work and promises couldn’t be clearer than they are in this story. Especially as it relates to things that only God can do. This beautiful story really needs no introduction. Let’s pick it up towards the end of the first passage. “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh'” (Genesis 18:11-15, NRSV).
“Oh yes, you did!” I love this story! It ends like an exchange between friends or siblings, calling each other out. I love this story too, because laughter is so present. A big part of stewardship is telling the story of what God has done, and this is one of those things. Leading a couple more than ‘advanced in years,’ to have a child, is something God can do.
Causing us to laugh at the craziness of it all, is something God can do. And sometimes as we think about how we have seen God, about how life has gone, and about some of the crazy things our faith communities have witnessed or been a part of, all you can do is laugh. And that is a beautiful thing. Laughter is a sign of life. It’s a sign of creation. It’s also a sign that our human notions of what we expect might be turned on their heads, and that is a good thing because it reminds us that really, anything as crazy as it might sound, is possible because of God’s creative and imaginative power and work, for us.
The beginning of chapter 21 is also included this week. That portion concludes with Sarah admitting, somewhat humorously understandably, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me…Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Genesis 21:6-7, NRSV). Indeed. It’s crazy. But it’s God’s story, of bringing hope and life into the world, even when it might seem impossible.
Perhaps that’s a fitting stewardship focus this week? “Sound’s impossible? Nah, it’s just God, doing God’s thing, and it’s so much fun, you can’t help but laugh sometimes when we’re a part of it.” After all, as Jesus will later say in the Gospel of Mark, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27, NRSV). That’s a promise, and that’s truth for us all this week.
In whatever direction the Spirit might be leading, may God’s humor and joy be with you, God’s promises guide you, and may all of them be with you as you point to and share God’s love with God’s people through word and deed.