Preaching on Stewardship- October 20, 2019- The Nineteenth 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 Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday October 20, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 29 (Year C)
First Lesson: Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Gospel of Luke 18:1-8

It is a yet another good week to preach on stewardship. From presence, naming, and discernment in our first lesson from Genesis, Psalm 121 seems to build on this and illustrates all about presence and “keeping,” while the second lesson from 2nd Timothy highlights the importance of understanding the time and current context; while our gospel reading from Luke covers themes of justice, prayer, relationship, and presence again, focused especially on God’s presence with us. Perhaps the common stewardship theme this week might just be presence? Here are my first thoughts and some nuggets and questions to consider.

The first lesson from Genesis 32 is a story that was interestingly included in the narrative lectionary last month. What came to mind then for me, more or less still seems to be sitting with me now. In this story, 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. 

But there’s more. The story concludes, “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.

In terms of this story, 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.

Psalm 121 resonates with the theme of God’s presence with us. The psalmist asks, I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2, NRSV). My help comes from the Lord. This resonates with Psalm 24, in the sense of, “The earth is the Lord’s and that is in it,” and the Lord is with all that is within it. The one “who made heaven and earth,” has not abandoned creation, but is very much with it, present with it, with us. 

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Visiting Salem Lutheran in Ponca, Nebraska yesterday, I had the sense that there was a great deal of presence among us. I saw God’s presence in the depth of cross+generational conversations such as this one. How do you see God’s presence around you?

Just as God is with all, God is with each of us. God knows us by name, just as God names Jacob, “Israel.” The psalmist builds on this with this idea of “keeping” and being a “keeper.” The psalmist explains, “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore” (Psalm 121:5-8, NRSV). Again we are shown this theme of presence and time. God is present with us. What does that mean for our stewardship? What does it mean for our understanding of time, especially time as God entrusts to us for us to use and live abundantly? And how do we embody God’s presence with the world? 

It might be fair to wonder if the writer of 2nd Timothy is echoing this question and idea this week when writing, “so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17,NRSV). What we do matters. Not for our salvation, but for our neighbors. God entrusts us with all that we need to do the work which God calls us to. That “good work,” is the kingdom building work that we are each equipped, empowered, and called for.

The writer of 2nd Timothy also offers a warning, which in reading it again this week, I read as a caution and call to understand our current climate, time, and context. Particularly, I am drawn to these words, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, NRSV).

It could be easy to take these words as doomsday like. It could be easy to use them toward another. But I am struck by them mostly as a call to all of us, to recognize the challenges of our current day, but to continue in the important work and ministry toward which we are called, not the least of which is telling God’s story of love, forgiveness, and life for all that might hear it. We are to “do the work of an evangelist,” and “carry out our ministry fully.” What does it take to carry out this ministry? What does it take to do the work of an evangelist to which we are called? These questions might just be the deep stewardship questions for your context this week, and the answers to these questions might point to where God is calling your faith community to next, and or highlight what God might be up to now within, around and among you.

Turning to the gospel, themes of justice, prayer, and presence seem to catch my attention. For example, we read the story that Jesus is unpacking, “In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent'” (Luke 18:3, NRSV). At the front end this might not seem much like stewardship, but I wonder, what does it mean or what might it mean to grant one justice? Because when it comes down to it, when we are baptized and affirm our baptisms, we promise to “work for justice and peace.” What might this mean today in your community? What might God be calling you to consider and be a part of?

Jesus keeps going with this story example and concludes, “yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming” (Luke 18:5, NRSV). Prayer matters. Persistence matters. We may not, and will not, always get what we pray for, but God will be and is most certainly with us when we pray, and really with us always. That presence is related to justice. God sees us, knows us, loves us, and is with us.

Jesus unpacks this further. “And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:6-8, NRSV). God does the work of justice, and granting justice. We’re called to engage in that work too, as some of God’s kingdom building work is done through us. But we’re also called to see and know that God will always work for justice for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, and sometimes when we (knowingly or unknowingly) benefit at the expense of the poor, God’s justice may (and will) make us uncomfortable.

These experiences are opportunities for us as God’s people to confess, and repent, but also to rejoin the work and arc of God’s work towards justice. That might mean listening instead of talking. That certainly means showing up for the sake of our neighbor. And it might also mean using our positions of privilege and authority (that we have as leaders in ministry, and/or as being ‘white,’ or in my case a white male, etc.) to use our positions of authority entrusted to us, for the sake of our neighbors. All in all, this is a stewardship issue.

Putting all of these stories together this week, I wonder, how is God showing up to you and through you, and for you? How do we notice God’s presence with us? And how are we showing up and being present as part of God’s work in the world for our neighbors? Perhaps these questions might just be the start of a powerful stewardship reflection or sermon this week.

Sunday October 20, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Week Seven (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: David Anointed King
Focus Passages:  2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5; Psalm 150
Gospel Verse:  Mark 11:8-10

In terms of stewardship, I am drawn to the themes of praise and rejoicing. There is a great deal in these stories this week related to rejoicing and giving God praise. Perhaps these words might give us language for our joyful response to God for all that God does for us?

As David is anointed king; thanksgiving, joy, and praise is shared. We read that, “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:5, NRSV). What might our praise sound like? What might it look like? 

Psalm 150 is included this week too in its entirety. And in thinking about stewardship, I think this is a gift. For the psalmist here offers so much language for what our praise might look and sound like, but also for what we offer our thanks and praise to God for. The psalmist invites, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!  Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:1-6, NRSV). If you’re looking for language for a stewardship campaign or at least a sermon title, you couldn’t do much better than, “Praise the Lord.” 

There’s a nice connection possibility with the narrative this week too with the Gospel of Mark’s gospel praise from the story of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In many ways this a wonderful pairing with the focus on “David being anointed king,” because we believe the fulfillment of the line of David is through Christ. To this end, Mark writes, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10, NRSV).

What might our praise sound like? And what might that look like as we respond joyfully and gratefully for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us? 

In whatever direction these stories move you this week, and in whatever ways the Holy Spirit leads, may God’s love and promises be shown to you in new ways. And may you point to them so that those around you and with you, might see and sense God active and up to something, present with them today and always.

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