Preaching on Stewardship- October 6, 2019- The Seventeenth 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 Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday October 6, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 27 (Year C)
First Lesson: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Gospel of Luke 17:5-10

If you’re preaching this week, it may not be as obvious or easy to preach on stewardship as it has been the past few weeks. Though this week would make for a great opportunity for thinking about how stewardship relates to justice, and the reorientation of who entrusts and whose is being entrusted. In that sense, it continues the theme of the past few weeks, of Jesus pointing us to our relationship with God and one another, and the challenges to that relationship that can emerge from the earthly, money, and other things that might get in the way.

The first lesson from the prophet Habakkuk is one of warning and woe. In terms of stewardship, one might pick up the end of this week’s selection and the distinction between one who might be comfortable and prideful in life, in part because of their wealth and status and that of one who is in right relationship with God because of their faith. For example we read, “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, NRSV). In who or what do you put your trust in? That might be the question worth considering when thinking about stewardship this week.

That question echoes through the psalm as well. The psalmist calls, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4, NRSV). The heart of the law is the hope that life might go well for you. The psalmist is repeating this notion, connecting it with one’s relationship with and trust God. When in right relationship, it might follow that one is taking hold of that abundant life that God alone can offer. Such a life, is one of joy, deep meaning, purpose, and gratitude. That all might lead to delight.

A word of caution though here. This is not a “do this, and you will be rich” or “do this, and you will have everything” like a genie or silly prosperity gospel interpretation. But rather, a repetition of theme of being oriented towards what really matters. When the people and things and stuff of this life are in right order, that is exactly when one might have delight and be content, which is precisely what abundance really looks and feels like.

The second lesson ends with the commendation to, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2 Timothy 1:14, NRSV). That good treasure might well be the truth and story of God’s love and promises for God’s people, the treasure which grounds us, guides us, and points to God’s presence with us and deep love for us. In terms of stewardship, this might be an opportunity to put God’s story in our hands, and show how God has entrusted that to us. What might this action of “entrusting” actually mean and look like? Besides that, the very presence of “entrusted” in this passage, opens the possibility to think about how God entrusts us with all that we have, and all that we are. Why? Any of these reflections and questions could make for timely stewardship preaching.

Finally, the gospel lesson picks up after Jesus has been telling parable after parable. Today he is more pointing to object lessons like the mustard seed for faith. He’s connecting that faith with action. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you'” (Luke 17:5-6, NRSV). Of course, a mustard seed is about as small as a seed gets, and a mulberry tree is no small thing to be uprooted. Perhaps Jesus in saying all this, is trying to help his friends, the disciples, especially to make sense of all the parables he has been telling them. Story after story, have been examples about what a life of faith might look like, but even more so, really, what might the Kingdom of God be, look like, and feel like. 

For in that kingdom, everyone has a seat at the table. There is no distinction between the haves and have nots. There is no chasm between people. All Children of God are together. But that of course is not possible by us alone. No we couldn’t make that happen. That would be God’s work, but God does use us to do some of that work.

Jesus keeps going in the story today. He brings up the dichotomy of slave and master. Admittedly, this dichotomy points to an issue of justice. For in God, there will be freedom and justice for the slave and oppressed. The human created distinctions and barriers will pass away. Jesus perhaps in highlighting this today is really calling us to repent and reorient ourselves yet again, to God and with God and to and with one another. Jesus asks, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (Luke 17:7-10, NRSV)

We have done only what we ought to have done!” That might be the most honest stewardship slogan ever. God does the hard work, and invites us to come and receive it. It’s a gift, this life that God in Christ offers. We could never earn or deserve it. It’s pure grace of course. Perhaps Martin Luther was thinking of this verse and the recognition that “We are worthless slaves,” when he decided to take a step further and repeatedly proclaim that “we are stinking maggot fodder.”

20190929_114419 (1)
Admiring Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Sometimes, we just have to go and marvel at the world. We might ask, “Why?” But in asking the question, we are inviting a response and hoping to grow in our learning, understanding, and relationship. Through that question and conversation, bit by bit, God’s kingdom breaks into our world in new and awe-inspiring ways. Maybe even through the flying of a kite, or the crazy idea to turn a bunch of old cars into a re-creation of stone henge out in the Panhandle of Nebraska.

Whatever the direction or rationale it isn’t solely an opportunity to lower ourselves or bring ourselves down a peg in terms of pride or worth. Rather this story, is another chance Jesus takes to have us wake up to see him, to see God, and to see each other. God is active and up to something. With God, faith can grow like a mustard seed. With God, the craziest of things, like a mulberry tree moving and planting itself in the sea, is possible. And with God, it is possible to envision a table where slave and master have equal share of the feast, both freed in Christ and equal sisters and brothers together. 

That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like. And that’s exactly the kind of world God dreams of, and calls us to help prepare as the kingdom is now and not yet, breaking in just a bit each day through the work of God’s beloved children, disciples, stewards, and heirs of God’s love and promises. This week’s stories point to that beautifully in the importance especially of how this is intertwined with justice for the poor, the lowly, and the oppressed. As well as, what it looks like to be entrusted with all that we are, especially God’s “good treasure” through which God’s love is made known.

Sunday October 6, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – Week Five (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Hear O Israel
Focus Passages: Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
Gospel Verse: Mark 12:28-31

Moving right along. The Narrative Lectionary is off to a fast start in this second year of the four year cycle. This week’s focus turns to the Ten Commandments and the Shema in Deuteronomy 5 and 6. The law, as offered, repeated, and reiterated, is given to to the people of Israel in the hope that life might go well for them which includes the presence and relationship that God desires to be with, and in relationship with, God’s people.

Deuteronomy chapter 5 begins, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today” (Deuteronomy 5:1-3, NRSV). In giving the commandments, they are prefaced with a reminder of the covenantal relationship with God has with God’s people. In terms of stewardship this is a big piece to remember. It’s not just about us, but it’s also about God and what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for God’s people. 

This relationship that God makes is grounded in the reminder and promises of God which include that God is one of “steadfast love,” which grounds our relationship with God, and helps explain why God does what God does, to the great depths God will go for God’s people. We hear again this week these familiar words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:6-11, NRSV). God’s not holding back. God is being quite clear on why these commandments are being given and for whom.

In terms of stewardship, I actually think there might be more to unpack and more fruitful to focus on in the story as it relates to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6. For in this passage, the commandments of somewhat summarized, and then connected to how they are to ground us and guide us in our relationship with God and with one another. Like Deuteronomy 5 begins, “Hear, O Israel,” the Shema begins the same way. Calling God’s people to listen, see, hear, and be as God desires us to be. 

We hear these words again as Moses proclaims them, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NRSV). This is what God wants for us, and what right relationship would look like. When this is in right order, the rest of our life as children of God falls into place.

I am glad that these readings are connected with Mark’s answer from Jesus’ the scribes’ trick question to him about the greatest commandment. We read from Mark 12, “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31, NRSV).

Jesus repeats the commandments, but then connects them to how they not only guide us and ground us in relationship with God, but also with each other. With these understood, our lives as stewards and disciples might better fall into place. As God’s love for us, makes life possible, but it also makes possible that love that we are to share and embody for each other, all beloved Children of God. Wonderfully made in the image of God. Created, called, beloved. Different in gifts, strengths, passions, experiences, and interests. But the same identity as heirs of the promise, in that we are all God’s children.

In whatever ways the story of God moves you and opens you to wonder this week, may you see and sense God’s deep love and promises, and may you share them and uplift them so that all might be reminded of them and know them through you.

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