Preaching on Stewardship- September 29, 2019- The Sixteenth 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 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday September 29, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 26 (Year C)
First Lesson: Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 6:6-19 
Gospel of Luke 16:19-31

What a week to preach on stewardship! If you weren’t planning on preaching on stewardship this week, well, you really should be now. Because all four of these stories are rich with stewardship wisdom and insights. Let’s take them in order.

The first lesson from Amos continues in the theme we heard last week- A theme of waking up and paying attention. Recognizing all that God entrusts to us, and calling us to see all those around us in need, whom God is calling us to be bearers of God’s love too with what God entrusts. If we don’t, well… from Amos’ viewpoint it doesn’t bode well for us. The prophet proclaims, “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts!” (Amos 6:1a, NRSV). Who is  “at ease”? Well, maybe it would be better to wonder, who isn’t? It’s probably safe to say that all of us who have more than enough, would be those in Amos’ view who are at ease.

Regardless of who is at ease, what is sure in Amos’ mind, is that the road ahead for them will be hard. Amos concludes, “Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away” (Amos 6:7, NRSV). Those at ease, won’t always be at ease, kind of like Jesus talks about in the parable this week about Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Psalm 146 probably needs little introduction. It’s a psalm with plenty of praise, which could be highlighted as examples for how stewardship is about our joyful response to God and for God, for all that God has done for us. What I love about this psalm, especially this week is the way it recounts God’s work for God’s people, it reminds us of what God does and promises to do. For example, the psalmist proclaims, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:5-7, NRSV). The psalmist offers a counterpoint to Amos. As Amos points to the way that we fall short, the psalmist offers example after example of the One who gives us life, and what that saving and life giving work is.

The psalmist doesn’t stop there. The psalmist continues, “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Psalm 146:7-9, NRSV). “The way of the wicked he brings to ruin,” echoes more closely the words and warning of Amos regarding all those who might be “at ease.”

These are important reminders to keep in mind, especially given Jesus’ teaching this week. This teaching echoes a main tenant of stewardship- where God calls us, empowers us, and entrusts us with gifts and talents and all that we have and all that we are to care for our neighbors– God’s children; whom God calls us into relationship with, and with whom and for whom sometime God uses us to do some of God’s work for.

The second lesson from 1 Timothy 6 digs into stewardship, wealth, and life. It begins with some reflections on contentment. We read, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NRSV).

Now if contentment is not to be had, and one wants to be rich, the writer offers warning, just as Jesus does in telling his story that we’ll get to in a moment. The writer offers the warning and moves to a call to the one who is faithful, to go a different way. We read, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:9-12, NRSV).

The writer is urging the faithful to “take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.” And in taking hold of this life, one enters into a life of discipleship, and arguably stewardship. Because in doing this, you recognize what God does, and you then respond to it. You don’t earn it. God offers what only God can provide, the gift of life. It’s a question though of how we might respond to that gift.

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This beautiful banner graces the wall of the sanctuary at Christ Lutheran in Pierce, Nebraska. For me, this seems like a call to “take hold of the life that really is life.”

What this response looks like, or at least could look like, could be described towards the end of this lesson. “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19, NRSV). “Take hold of the life that really is life.” That theme could be your stewardship theme. It’s a response. It highlights who God is, and whose God is. And in terms of stewardship, it points to what abundant life is and means.

Now, turning to the gospel. Jesus tells a story to his disciples and those listening, continuing his teachings. From the story about the lost coin and lost sheep, to the lost son (Prodigal Son), to the one we heard last week about the dishonest and shrewd manager, to today’s story about the Rich Man and Lazarus. Lazarus, the poor man has had the toughest of life. Though he was seen by the Rich Man, he wasn’t really seen. The rich man took no pity. The rich man showed no concern. It’s interesting really that Jesus doesn’t even give the rich man a name. All of these are examples of the great reversal that Jesus is pointing to throughout the Gospel of Luke. Pure and simply, the Kingdom of God changes things. 

Today’s gospel story unpacks this even further. Jesus begins, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:19-22, NRSV). The haves and have nots. The story begins with the disparity between a rich man and a poor suffering man named Lazarus. But again, the story is just beginning.

Jesus continues. “In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us” (Luke 16:23-26, NRSV). In the matter of a few verses, the story has been completely reversed. The rich man still hasn’t figured it out though. He only sees Lazarus as a person who could serve him. He refuses to see him as an equal Child of God. He is unable to see him as a fellow brother.

Where Lazarus has been resurrected, the rich man sees Lazarus as a means to help him, put his affairs in order. He sees Lazarus as a potential “Hail Mary” of sorts, to try and warn his loved ones. The problem is, he, like his loved ones, have had the truth of the story of God in front of their face the whole time. And they either ignored it, or altogether scoffed at it– That story, the story of God with us, the story of God on the cross and then resurrected and ascended for us.

Jesus says as much, foreshadowing what is to come, by saying, “neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” That’s how Jesus concludes this story, this week. Jesus remarks about the rich man in conversation with Abraham, “He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31, NRSV). 

God’s story has been pretty straight forward about caring for the neighbor. Amos was clear. The psalmist was clear. And the epistle writer is clear about the challenges and woes that come, when one’s relationship with God is out of wack because of their relationship with things, wealth, and money. God calls us to see each other. And when we see each other, to be so moved, to be the bearers and stewards of God’s love that we each are called and created to be. If we don’t, then who are we in these stories? I suspect most of us, at least, might well identify with the rich man.

This text might come off as a bit harsh. But it’s good news. Because there’s first of all a reminder of who our God is. There is also a reminder and call that we are to see that, and take hold of that life, the real abundant life of life with God in Christ. 

Sunday September 29, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Week Four (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Moses and God’s Name
Focus Passages: Exodus 1:8-14, [1:15-2:10]; 3:1-15
Gospel Verse: Mark 12:26-27a

The Narrative Lectionary covers a wide amount of text and story. It encompasses three chapters at the beginning of Exodus. In terms of preaching on stewardship, I would highlight the promises of God made in this story. God hears the cries of God’s people, and God shows up. God responds. And this saving work for God’s people is recalled here. In terms of stewardship, it’s a golden opportunity to tell God’s story, to point to God’s promises, and to wonder, how might God be showing up like this, for us, all around us today?

The selections begin with the back story of what had become God’s people Israel, in Egypt. How their lot in life had deteriorated drastically, and they were oppressed (Exodus 1:8-14). But even amid that harshness, God saw some good. the midwives were dealt well with, and the people were multiplied (Exodus 1:20, NRSV). An optional story inclusion covers the birth of Moses as well (especially Exodus 2:7-10).

In terms of stewardship, I would especially look at Exodus 3. God reveals God’s self in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). In that revelation, God recalls God’s relationship with God’s people. God speaks, “‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6, NRSV).

After revealing God’s self, God acknowledges that God has heard the cries of God’s people. God continues to Moses, “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain’” (Exodus 3:9-12, NRSV).

And when Moses hems and haws, thinking the people won’t believe him, God tells Moses what to recount of God’s saving work and on-going story and relationship with God’s people. God tells Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations” (Exodus 3:15, NRSV).

In thinking about stewardship, this is the story to highlight. What a great and beautiful story it is. We are called to tell it, to share it, to steward it. And to invite other into it, to see what God is up to, and to come and wonder about who God is, and what God is calling us to do now. 

Wherever the Spirit leads, I hope that you hear God’s Word and promises for you, and that you are able to share that this week and always.

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