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 Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday September 22, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 25 (Year C)
First Lesson: Amos 8:4-7
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Gospel of Luke 16:1-13
If you’re preaching on stewardship this week, then you have ample texts to work with. If you weren’t planning to preach on stewardship, good luck avoiding the obvious stewardship preaching points in this week’s texts. (But really, why are you reading this post if you aren’t interested in digging into the stewardship wisdom of this week’s stories?) Let’s take the texts in order beginning with Amos.
The prophet Amos seems pretty clear about the importance of caring for one’s neighbor. But even more so, Amos is clear about the warning to those who don’t care for the lost and the least. Amos declares, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’ The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds” (Amos 8:4-7, NRSV).
Though we cannot earn or deserve God’s gifts of life and salvation, we are entrusted by God with resources to care for all of God’s children. Do we care for each other as God calls us to? Or do we hoard things for ourselves, or even worse, not only hoard things but extort those who are lowly and lost? Woe to us all, Amos says. In terms of stewardship the implications of this are clear. Perhaps it is a good time to reflect on how we are doing on caring for our neighbors with all that we have, and not extorting those in need? Perhaps it is a good time too, to open our senses to those in our community hurting and in financial need, and see what we can do to help alleviate some of that hurt?
Building off the call to change and conviction from the prophet, the psalmist reminds us who God is and what God does. The psalmist asks and proclaims, “Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 113:5-9, NRSV)
In spite of a world of sin where we are captive to stuff, things, money, greed, and more, God offers us another way. God lifts up the lost and the lowly, offering life abundant. We are invited to join God at the table, and invited to join God in caring for all creation. We are invited to respond to God’s work for us, in gratitude and joy, praising God. And we are invited to respond in following God’s call to see our neighbor and be in relationship with them, each other, and God, together.
The response and spirit of gratitude and joy is echoed in the second lesson from 1 Timothy. We read, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:1, NRSV). We are called into relationship with each other, and thus should not only be aware of each other, but give thanks for each other, pray for each other, hold one another, love and support each other as sisters and brothers, all Children of God. The one who calls us into relationship, is God, whom the writer makes clear what God has done and does for us, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6, NRSV).
There’s good stuff all around in the lectionary this week. But let’s be honest. If preaching on stewardship, you have to dig into this week’s gospel lesson. If for no other reason than the last verse. But the whole passage itself calls for some teaching and preaching. It’s a hard text to be sure, but one that comes with Jesus teaching to his disciples, not necessarily a large crowd here. He is speaking to his closest friends, intimately. He is warning them about the dangers of wealth and money. Not because wealth and money are bad, necessarily, but to have them recognize that when in right relationship with God, one’s approach and relationship with money will be different.
Jesus begins talking to his disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (Luke 16:1-3, NRSV).
On the one hand, this manager was entrusted with the responsibility of being a steward of the rich man’s property. Clearly, something is amiss, and the manager has not been up to the task. This would normally feel like Jesus would offer this story as an example for us to confess our sins, to admit our wrong, and to turn back to God. But oddly of course, Jesus doesn’t go in this direction in his teaching this time.
Jesus continues to tell the story with the manager deciding what he will do next. “I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes” (Luke 16:4, NRSV). The manager is looking out for himself. But wrapped up in all of this is a sense of welcome, relationship, community, and hospitality. On the one hand you would expect the steward to be faithful to his master. But on the other, he is in a unique position here, as he can make life a little better for those who might be in debt. In this regard, perhaps Jesus is lifting up the manager as an example of one, who though has done wrong and sinned, has found a way and means with his position, privilege, and authority to help those around him. (Not saying two wrongs make a right, but at least opening the question to one of the gray area between right and wrong, the rules, and doing what is right despite what the rules might say.)
The story continues, “So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty'” (Luke 16:5-7, NRSV). You would think this dishonesty wouldn’t be appreciated by the master, but whether it’s purely self-serving or not, the manager is doing what he can in his last moments in his role, to make life just a little better for those around him. Clearly though, the manager’s relationship with the debtors and the wealth and property he was called to steward, has changed.
The reaction of the master though is somewhat befuddling. Jesus continues telling the story, “And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:8-9, NRSV). Again this isn’t an easy parable to unpack. But what does seem to be true, again, is that Jesus’ understanding of the earthly and money is different than that of society’s.
Putting this parable in conversation with Jesus’ next teaching though, might help in digging more into the stewardship wisdom of this whole passage. At the very least, it raises tons of questions and possibilities for wondering about and listening to God. What might God be calling us to see now? What might God be calling us to do as stewards of God’s love today?
Jesus continues teaching to his disciples, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:10-13, NRSV).
God entrusts us with all that we have. In this regard, perhaps God is the master in the story? In which case, if God entrusts to us to steward, then perhaps the manager finally wised up in the end, by using his resources entrusted to him to care for those God calls him into relationship with? Regardless of the interpretation though, you cannot run from Jesus’ conclusion here, that “You cannot serve God and wealth.” You have to wrestle with that statement. Because at the heart of stewardship is the idea of relationship- our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other whom God calls unto. If we are more focused on the stuff and things of this life, we may well forget the relationships we are in, or at least may not prioritize them as we ought.
Money in and of itself is not bad. Wealth is not in and of itself bad. But when they are given power, and made ends in and of themselves, they have become barriers to our relationship with God and each other. But when they are seen as things that are tools and resources entrusted to our care, through which we are called to use them to live abundantly, but also to care for our neighbors through our means and vocations, and to also return a portion of that which God entrusts, then they are hopefully more in right order. After all, whose wealth is it? Ours or God’s? The answer to that question goes a long way in telling you if you have them in right order or not.
Sunday September 22, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Week Three (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Jacob Wrestles God
Focus Passages: Genesis 32: [9-13] 22-30
Gospel Verse: Mark 14:32-36
The third week of our journey through the Narrative takes us deeper into Genesis, with the crazy but beautiful story about Jacob wrestling with God, and receiving a new name from God’s self.
Jacob finds himself in the wilderness, and wouldn’t you know it, but God shows up. “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed’” (Genesis 32:24-28, NRSV). Jacob has a new name, Israel. And that name comes from none other than God’s self.
The story concludes for this week, “Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved’” (Genesis 32:29-30, NRSV). It takes a special person obviously to be able to do this, and it clearly indicates that this Jacob is important in God’s eyes. To have his name changed to Israel, well, we know the rest of the story. Though this one who has strived with God, just as through Abraham before him, God will make his descendants vast, and through this line, God will do God’s thing in the world- ultimately through the Son.
This act of naming by God is a stewardship act. This act of showing up, is a clear moment of God’s promises in action. God shows up and cares for God’s people. God calls us, claims us, and wants to be in relationship with us. And through us, God does some of God’s work in the world.
This act and work done through Jacob/Israel, of course will lead the narrative and generations to come. But it will also be recalled throughout the narrative, as God did in this story, God will hear God’s people, and will show up to them in their times of need. (Which is alluded to in the paired gospel passage from Mark 14:32-36). Though, as God will do what seems impossible to us, God will do things that we cannot envision nor expect. I mean, who would expect God to show up and wrestle with them? And even if you might imagine that happening, who would think they might survive such an instance?
In terms of the story itself, you might also think about discernment. When we are discerning what God might be calling us to do, to be, or to consider, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to say that at times, discerning and listening to God might just feel like wrestling. If this idea might resonate with your community, run with it, especially for stewardship in thinking about what are some of the hard questions you and your faith community are facing. Name the questions aloud. Don’t try and answer them, necessarily, but turn them over to God. Calling upon God to show the way, open the hearts and minds of God’s people, and to see what God might be up to, and to what and where God might be leading us to do and be a part of next.
Wherever the Spirit leads this week, wherever these rich and challenging stories might take you and open in your mind, may God’s love and promises be reminded for you, and may they be made clear through you.