Preaching on Stewardship- October 27, 2019- Reformation Sunday & The Twentieth 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 Reformation Sunday and the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday October 27, 2019: Reformation Sunday
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Second Lesson: Romans 3:19-28
Gospel of John 8:31-36

The Reformation Sunday stories mean that we are off to the races with reminders of God’s love and promises. Central to these four, is God’s story of God’s work for God’s people. A work that cannot be earned. A work that is never deserved, but is pure grace and gift. The result of a God who makes covenants and promises to be with God’s people, to love God’s people, and to not abandon them. These stories also point to a God who does new things for the sake of God’s people.

In terms of stewardship, it is an ideal week for pointing to God’s work for us, and how we respond to that gift and work through our lives as stewards. Perhaps you might consider the question, “Now what?” Or, “what’s next?” Either question might elicit a great stewardship reflection that is context centric this Reformation Sunday, a day we acknowledge that God is always forming and re-forming the church as bearers of God’s news and promises for God’s beloved people and all creation.

A few notes from the stories. Beginning with the first lesson. The prophet Jeremiah explains, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, NRSV).

Within these two full verses, I have highlighted at least two promises that God does and will do. God will be with us, and we will be God’s people. And God will forgive us, no longer holding our sin against us. This is most certainly good news that frees us up to live, serve, share, and love in God’s abundance. How could we not be joyful and grateful remembering this good news for us?

Psalm 46 needs no introduction. It was a favorite of Martin Luther that largely shaped his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” hence it’s annual inclusion in the Reformation pericope. The psalmist begins, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult” (Psalm 46:1-3, NRSV). Who is our God? God is “our refuge and strength,” and from this reminder flows our understanding of who God is, and whose we are as God’s people. 

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The beautiful countryside driving across Central Nebraska through the Sandhills as part of the Nebraska Synod Road Show- Pandhandle Edition. For me, this is a sign of God’s beauty, activity, and on-going presence in the world.

The psalmist continues though in reminding us that God is with us, today and always. The psalmist proclaims, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:7-11, NRSV). Again we are reminded that God is with us. We are reminded of what our God does and can do. And we give praise, recognizing that we “exalt” God. It’s not a stretch to say that this text fits well the understanding of stewardship as our joyful response to all that God does, continues to do, and promises to do, for us.

The second lesson is pretty darn familiar too. It’s Paul’s treatise on justification by faith, something that Luther would find freeing and ever since, has been a central understanding to a Lutheran articulation of theology. It points to who God is, who we are, and how and why we are in relationship with each other. Paul writes, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:22-24, NRSV). Grace is a gift. One we all could never earn or deserve. But through God in Christ, it is given to us. That’s God’s work. And that frees us to live as the beloved Children of God we are called and created to be.

Paul is not done of course. He writes, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28, NRSV). Faith alone justifies us. Faith that is a gift of God. Faith that holds God’s promises at the center. Faith that makes possible for us to open ourselves up to see and sense and wonder about what God might be up to. And one which calls us to come and see, to follow, and to join in where we can with what God entrusts for the sake of our neighbor in gratitude and joy for what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do, for us.

Turning to the Gospel. For those following the revised common lectionary, this week affords a one week break in the cycle from dwelling in the Gospel of Luke in the fall. It takes us instead to John 8 to focus on the effect of the Word, the emphasis of sola scriptura in particular, and the freedom that comes to us as a gift through Christ. We read these familiar words, “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’” (John 8:31-32, NRSV).

Dwelling in the Word leads to discipleship. But that discipleship is not a stagnant thing, it is a full and holistic life thing. It’s one that leads us into worship with each other, grounded in Word and sacrament, and sent out to serve in and share of God’s deep love for the whole world. A love that we can’t help but share, because through that love we are freed. And that freeing is so wonderful, it moves us to act and continue to grow as disciples and stewards.

But what about sin? We confess it of course, acknowledging that we are captive to it. But we also believe that God in Christ hears our confession, and absolves and forgives. For Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36, NRSV).

Because God does this, because the Son does this, it is so. “We are free indeed.” Thanks be to God! What a wonderful week to point to God’s story and promises for us, and to again wonder, what might God be up to today, and calling us to see and be a part of next?

Sunday October 27, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 30 (Year C)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22; or Sirach 35:12-17
Psalm 84:1-7
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Gospel of Luke 18:9-14

Admittedly, as a Lutheran I am more likely to dig into the Reformation texts this week. But if they aren’t your thing, or if Reformation is not a part of your context or tradition, here are a few stewardship thoughts on the pericope for this Sunday following Lectionary 30.

I might rest highly in Psalm 84 if I were you. It begins, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2, NRSV). I have choral anthems streaming through my mind as I read these familiar words. I think this text in particular points to the goodness of God, one that extends to God’s people and creation. And that’s an excellent starting place for thinking about stewardship as sharing in God’s love and abundance, in hope and joy with the world.

The second lesson from 2 Timothy is also one that tugs at my heart strings. It’s a text that was read at my grandpa’s funeral twelve years ago. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already. But it’s a reminder of not only God’s work, but that we as disciples live in the ways and vocations God calls us to, and at the end of our earthly lives we can rest in the assurance and hope of God’s promises. We can rest hearing the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Words like the epistle writer shares, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NRSV).

Words that continue later in this lesson, with a benediction of sorts. Words that point to God’s presence with and promises for us, like, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18, NRSV). “To him be the glory for ever and ever,” thanks be to God. These words and the words earlier in this lesson are great for thinking about life and particularly life as a steward and disciple. How have we done? What is our story and legacy? What is our impact? How have (or how are) lives been changed through God working through us? How are we doing? What might God be calling us to be a part of next? Big, yet wonderful questions to ponder this week.

Finally, the gospel lesson is one in Luke which because it almost always falls in Year C on Reformation Sunday it’s not often heard, at least in Luke’s version of the story. On it’s surface it might be a deceptively easy parable. But as Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner reminds, we need to be careful to not fall into mischaracterizing or stereotyping the characters within the story.

The story begins as Jesus shares, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income…’” (Luke 18:10-12, NRSV). What are marks of discipleship and stewardship? Because one might say that this Pharisee is surely displaying many of them. But perhaps the deeper motivation behind the life of faith is different? Regardless of the Pharisee, I think this story might serve in terms of stewardship as an invitation to wonder about how are we living our lives as stewards and disciples? And perhaps more importantly, why are we doing what we are doing? 

Jesus continues teaching. He explains, “But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Luke 18:13-14, NRSV).

Perhaps this story is a reminder, fittingly on Reformation Sunday, that it’s not about what we do or don’t do. It’s about what God does for us. We confess all that gets in the way of us living as we ought. We ask for God’s grace and forgiveness. And we are assured that God is with us, for us, and loves us. This assurance and grace sends us out, changed. Just as I suspect the tax-collector left the temple that day changed in some way. How might we be changed today? And how might God change us, helping us grow as the stewards of God’s love that we are entrusted with all that we have and all that we are, to be?

Sunday October 27, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost & Reformation Sunday – Week Eight (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Kingdom Divided
Focus Passages: 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29
Gospel Verse: Mark 10:42-45

Truth be told, I am kind of glad I am not preaching from the Narrative Lectionary this week. These are important stories. But in terms of stewardship, they may not be the easiest ones to preach on. They might, however, be helpful and fitting on this Reformation Sunday for thinking about how there are two kingdoms we are called to be a part. And or how there is a now and not yet to the kingdom of God?

In thinking about stewardship, perhaps this portion of the story might be helpful for thinking about God’s promises and God’s relationship with us? Particularly how by being in relationship with God, we remember that we are recipients and hopefully inheritors of God’s promises made to us through our ancestors? We read, “When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king, ‘What share do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David.’ So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah” (1 Kings 12:16-17, NRSV).

I appreciate the quick summary of this week’s lectionary reading theme that appears in the overview for the Readings of Year 2 cycle, “Rehoboam and the need for servant leadership; the kingdom is divided.” Perhaps digging into this theme and focus on the examples of ‘servant leadership,’ might be timely in your context for imagining a new what the life of stewardship and discipleship might look like? And particularly, how that might be similar or different than what you see being lifted up by people in power and authority in our society?

Another stewardship tidbit could be in wondering about the depth and significance of the “two calves of gold.” We read, “Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and resided there; he went out from there and built Penuel. Then Jeroboam said to himself, ‘Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.’ So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan” (1 Kings 12:25-29, NRSV).

In terms of stewardship, I am grateful for the suggested gospel accompaniment this week. Because Jesus turns leadership on its head to be a thing about service, a service which I believe is a mark of discipleship and stewardship. The gospel reads, “So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:42-45, NRSV). Perhaps connecting this with the story from 1 Kings might make for a powerful and timely stewardship and leadership message in your context?

Whatever stories draw your attention this week, may the Spirit’s presence move you and open you up to God’s activity and call all around you. And may you proclaim God’s presence and promise this week boldly, dwelling in the Word that grounds us and gives us life, and calls us all to live and share God’s deep love for all of God’s people.

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