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 Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday October 13, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 28 (Year C)
First Lesson: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
Gospel of Luke 17:11-19
Stories of healing, restoration, and gratitude for God’s work for us abound in the lectionary this week. In terms of stewardship, it seems like a good week to think both about the joyful response that we live out and offer in our stewardship for all that God promises and does for us, as well as, to reflect on the deeper why to our response and to God’s activity.
The first lesson is all about the healing of Naaman. Naaman, a general, expects a radical healing. He imagines God doing something so amazing, that people will see and be astounded. Instead, he gets angry when his prescription for healing seems nothing but normal ordinary washing. For example, “But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” (2 Kings 5:11, NRSV)
If it weren’t for his servants, Naaman well may never have been healed. They reasoned with him. And once he did follow the instructions he received from the prophet, he declared a sense of awe for who and what the God of Israel is. In hearing this part of the story, pay attention to the reactions of all those in these verses. “But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant’” (2 Kings 5:13-15, NRSV).
Some questions to ponder related to stewardship from this story that I might wrestle more with include: How do we respond for what God offers and does for us- With awe, joy, wonder, and gratitude? With a sense of indifference or even ignoring it? How do we imagine God communicating to or inviting us? Through what sort of actions might we expect God to show up? And how might our ideas or assumptions be challenged by God, especially if our God often shows up doing the extraordinary through the ordinary?
The psalmist offers words for our praise and thanks to God for all that God does. Praise we might join in with loud and bold Hallelujahs. Like with the words, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1, NRSV).
The praise and hallelujah, words of our joyful response, are the psalmist’s response for what God does, saving work throughout God’s on-going story for God’s people that the psalmist recalls and reminds us of. Work described through words like, “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant for ever. Holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures for ever” (Psalm 111:9-10, NRSV). It might be important to think of fear here not so much as terror, but more like awe. For when we are in awe of the Lord with a holy fear, we begin to see and remember all that God has done and is capable of.
The writer of 2nd Timothy connects this theme with what God does in Christ for us, specifically through the sacramental and saving work we know through baptism and communion. The writer reminds, “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11, NRSV). This is a reminder of God’s promises and presence with us. It’s a reminder of God’s story yet again for God’s people, one that we are reminded of constantly in worship around the sacraments as they ground us, and force us to recall in the liturgy God’s work for God’s people, but more so, God’s work, promise, and presence for us now. Thinking about stewardship, what might it mean to live with God in Christ? Perhaps this might be a jumping off point to digging more deeply into what such an abundant life might feel like?
The gospel story this week is the famous story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Or it’s a story about one leper who returns to give Jesus thanks and praise, while nine didn’t. Though that second interpretation is rather harsh, because we don’t know what happened to those nine others. Rev. Dr. Mercedes Garcia Bachmann was one of our keynote speakers at the Nebraska Synod TheoCon this week, and she made this important point in preaching this week. I think it’s particularly useful if preaching on stewardship, so as not to simply use this text as a story about one good person who says thank you, and the others who happen to seem ungrateful, though if sticking with the text, all they did, at least as we can comfortably assume without reading too much into the text, is that all they did was as Jesus ordered for them to go and see the priests.
The gospel story begins with the setting of where Jesus is now on his journey toward Jerusalem. It’s also interesting to consider the context as a point of intersection or an area between places that might not get along so well, or at least places of peoples who don’t get along too well or at least don’t seem to respect each other necessarily. We read, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean” (Luke 17:11-14, NRSV).
Jesus doesn’t do some instantaneous healing. It says “as they went, they were made clean.” They were healed on their journey or walk. Might this be an illustration for what a life of living as disciples and stewards every day might be? At the very least, it is a good reminder that though Jesus and God hear our prayers and pleas for mercy, God may not always answer those pleas in ways we might expect. (Similarly to Naaman’s experience in our first lesson this week.) Instead of a grandiose display of Jesus’ healing power, Jesus sends them to the priests, and they are healed somewhere on their journey.
Classically in terms of stewardship thinking in this text, you might be drawn to the identity of the one man who returned to thank him. We don’t know the community, ethnicity, or gender of the nine who did not return, but we do know that the one who did, was a Samaritan. A samaritan, one who was not well regarded outside of their own community. Yet, a neighbor just the same across barriers. (Maybe it could be worthwhile to connect this story with Jesus’ story about the “Good Samaritan” too.)
The samaritan returns and gives his thanks and praise. The story continues, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:15-19, NRSV).
There are so many famous lines in this story, especially the closing, “your faith has made you well.” The faith is, as Jesus notes, is of a “foreigner.” A Samaritan, one who would be a neighbor but not regarded well by others. This detail included in Luke might be a reminder to us that othering and racism are nothing new. They were just as sinful when Jesus came, as they are now. Perhaps in terms of stewardship, Jesus or the gospel writer are calling us to expand our understanding of neighbor? Not just as someone we like, or someone we might be able to help far away, but rather nearby to us.
Even more in terms of stewardship, put yourself in the shoes of the one who returned. (The others might have, but we don’t have that in the text to tell us what happened to them?) The one who returned, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice…” The one who returned was now a disciple or witness to God’s work. One whom Jesus would again tell, just as he had told him to go and see the priests earlier, he would now tell to “get up and go on your way…” He was sent out. The gratitude for God’s work of healing and restoring this Samaritan to health but also perhaps some sense of community standing, propelled the man to give thanks, but then to likely go and tell of what God had done, spreading the Good News of God which is the work of evangelism, but also stewardship as we steward God’s story.
How have you seen God show up lately? How have you given thanks and praise? And how has that thanks and praise led you or your faith community into a new chapter of life, service, presence, ministry, and awareness of God’s call to share God’s love with all the world? Plenty of stewardship questions to ponder this week, to be sure.
The narrative jumps from the Pentateuch this week to some more of the historical books, specifically this week Ruth. The story begins with an explanation of the context and tragedy of famine and hunger that has befallen the people.
We read, “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons” (Ruth 1:1, NRSV). Whenever Bethlehem shows up in God’s story, it often seems to be an explanation point to pay attention, and this story is no different.
In terms of stewardship, the story of Ruth is a beautiful and powerful one, especially in thinking about stewarding each other, relationships, and our sense of call. Ruth refuses to abandon her mother-in-law Naomi, and after some back and forth, says one of the most beautiful lines in all of the Bible. They are words of commitment. They are words of relationship and presence. And really, they are words of stewardship. For good or bad, God has brought these people together, and because of that, Ruth will not abandon her, though that in essence, may well mean that she is abandoning societal norms in the process.
The words of Ruth have turned into many a song, including one that I sang to Allison on our wedding day. Words that we read from Ruth again, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17, NRSV).
How do we steward relationships that we are called in to? Are we there for each other, no matter what? How are we present with ourselves and each other in daily life? And, how is that presence felt or experienced when challenged by external realities, like in this case death and famine? And how do we steward God’s call to us, both to show up in daily life for each other and the common good, but also, even more so, to be in relationship with God no matter where we might find ourselves? Just a few questions to consider, for what stewardship might have to do with this famous story.
In whatever direction any of these stories might draw your attention as the Spirit moves you, may God’s love and saving work ground you and be reminded to you, and may you remind others of them and point to them this week.