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 All Saints Sunday and the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
God is with you. God’s promises are true. On this All Saints Sunday it is especially timely and imperative to point to the hope of God’s promise of life and resurrection. And these promises and presence are God’s work for us, which as stewards we are called to share, entrusted with, and called to respond to in some way.
The first and second lesson point to the hope of God’s promises of life and resurrection. In Daniel, we read, “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever’” (Daniel 7:17-18, NRSV). “The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever…” This is good news. But who are the holy ones? In baptism we are claimed, marked, and sealed. And on this week it might be helpful to remind the faithful of the truth of simul justus et peccator. That is the truth that we are both saint and sinner.
Paul runs with this in his letter to Ephesians, connecting the promises made and claiming that happens by God in baptism, with the inheritance all receive through God in Christ. Paul writes, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14, NRSV).
This too is good news. No, it’s great news. If preaching on stewardship, I might just focus on these four verses. Because this is all about God’s act for us. Acts and gifts of grace we could never earn or deserve. This “pledge of our inheritance,” can only be responded to by us through praise and thanks, gratitude and joy.
As usual, Paul has more good stuff to ponder. Paul offers language that might be helpful to incorporate in your own worship leadership, prayer, and preaching this week when giving thanks to God but also giving thanks for the community you serve with and walk alongside. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16, NRSV).
“I do not cease to give thanks for you…” This could be a great stewardship theme and focus for a sermon series or campaign. But at the very least, it’s a wonderful opportunity to share your gratitude and thanks for the People of God in your midst publicly. All Saints Day is particularly a day for thanksgiving, to give thanks for the saints who have gone before us, for those who have been newly baptized, and for all the faithful living true to their calling and identity as a Baptized Child of God. As a disciple and steward. And really as a Saint and a Sinner.
In case there is any doubt though, Paul makes clearer still who is doing the work here though. Paul concludes, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23, NRSV). God in Christ does this for us. God in Christ makes this possible. And through God in Christ, we are all recipients of God’s promises of abundant life. Thanks be to God.
The psalmist gives us words this week which may well be our proper response to this and to all that God does for us. With the psalmist we sing or read, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches” (Psalm 149:1-5, NRSV).
What might a joyful and grateful response look like for all that God has done? This is a great example. Praise. Songs. Rejoicing. Dancing. Musical melodies. Exultation and joy. On this All Saints Sunday, how might you create such a joyful and praiseful response in worship in your context?
Our Gospel story this week comes from Luke’s account of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” It is Jesus’ teaching and preaching on “Blessings and Woes,” including the blessings of the Beatitudes, but also the reciprocal woes. Jesus looked at the disciples we read and preached this, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6:20-23, NRSV).
What might the saintly life look like? Living out our baptismal promises. Responding to God’s invitation to not only see our neighbors near and far, but to be in relationship with them, and to respond to their needs with what God entrusts to our care. Simply to not only live as disciples, but as stewards of all that God entrusts for the sake of our neighbors.
But Jesus isn’t done. If one doesn’t see and respond to their neighbor in need, if one hoards that which God entrusts, if one causes harm or even worse takes joy in the pain of another, woe indeed. Jesus warns, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:24-26, NRSV).
I distinctly remember shortly after the Presidential inauguration in the United States in early 2017, the Beatitudes were the Gospel lesson one week. I have never heard from so many friends and colleagues across the church at once saying that they were all told to “not preach politics.” The truth of the matter is they were preaching the gospel, a version of the story slightly different than this one, but darn close. It might be heard as hard news to be sure. Especially given the fact that we hoard so much, and the fact that we fall into the lies of scarcity every day, thinking there is only so much, and if I don’t have it, someone else will.
But in this, Jesus is inviting us to see that we have more than enough. God is with us. We are enough for what we are called to do, pure and simply because we are God’s beloved child. Known by name, and claimed forever in the waters of baptism. Regardless of if this is hard news, it’s important news on this All Saints Day. Put another way, one might wonder with the prophet Micah about what does the Lord require of you? In that case, perhaps this is Jesus’ recitation and response on Micah 6:8.
Jesus concludes, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31, NRSV).
The summation of this whole story is the golden rule. A rule that Jesus connects elsewhere to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A rule Jesus connects to the Shema, explaining the summation of the greatest commandments as you are to “love your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
At the heart this story today is an articulation of what this love, as difficult as it might be for us to understand and seemingly live into, really looks like. It’s an illustration of the depth and breadth of the challenges and imperatives for living life as disciples and stewards. But it’s also an invitation for us all to evaluation how we are doing in this life of simultaneously being saint and sinner, and to again open ourselves up for the world that God loves so dearly and calls and equips us all for it in our various vocations.
In thinking about stewardship this week, I believe that making that point is critical. And then it might well be timely to connect to stories of legacy of those who have gone before us, and/or those who have committed or recommitted to their lives as a baptized Child of God. So that we might all see anew what it looks like to follow Jesus’ call to be in relationship with God, and the world God loves so dearly.
Sunday November 3, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 31 (Year C)
First Lesson: Isaiah 1:10-18
Second Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Gospel of Luke 19:1-10
I suspect most of you reading this blog this week will be preaching on the All Saints texts listed above. But if not, a couple quick observations and nuggets for stewardship about the Lectionary 31 texts.
Isaiah points to an invitation to the marks of discipleship and stewardship, and to what it might look like to be in relationship with God, and how one might confess their shortcomings and renew their baptismal life and call. The prophet commands, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:16-18, NRSV). The cleaning and forgiveness comes from God. As does all that God entrusts to our care. And for and with all that God entrusts, God calls us to “do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.” How are you doing in responding to this call? In what areas might your faith community need to dig deep and recommit itself, or begin to commit itself to this work of the Body of Christ?
In the second lesson, we hear themes of thankfulness, gratitude, and abundance. Paul writes, “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, NRSV). How are you giving thanks to God as a congregation? How are you giving thanks for each and every one in your faith community? And what might the signs be of God’s abundance growing in the lives of the faithful disciples and stewards in your community?
If preaching on these stories this week and looking for stewardship, though there is good stuff in Isaiah and 2 Thessalonians, I think I would dig into one of my favorite stories. The story of Jesus coming near. The story of a “wee little man” as you might have learned in Sunday School called Zacchaeus trying to see Jesus, but in the process of his trying to see, Jesus sees him and comes to his home. Jesus invites Zacchaeus into the life of stewardship in obvious and challenging ways, just as God sees us, knows us, and invites us all too.
The story begins, as Jesus “entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:1-10, NRSV). Thanks be to God.
In thinking about this story, I can’t help but remember that this is the text that was preached on by Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis at Allison’s ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament three years ago this weekend. So, yet another reason why I love this story. It’s well known to be sure, but there is so much in it, you can’t help but sense some stewardship nuggets which I have bolded in the text above that you might want to dig into and reflect on, and invite some deep reflecting of your congregation with this week. Would we respond like Zacchaeus to Jesus’ call to us?
How might we respond if hearing the words, “Today salvation has come to this house?” Jesus is clearly making a point about the inclusive nature of God’s promise and identity of being a son of Abraham or a Child of God. It’s not just for a few. It’s for the many. And on this Sunday that also happens to be All Saints, that is good news and a great reminder. Though the people might say that Jesus had “gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner,” we know we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. To think otherwise is to miss the point.
Sunday November 3, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost & All Saints Sunday – Week Nine (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Elijah at Mount Carmel
Focus Passages: 1 Kings 18: [17-19] 20-39
Gospel Verse: Mark 9:2-4
This text from 1 Kings might be a good story. In terms of stewardship, instead of offering a commentary of sorts in response, I am simply going to take the story as a whole below and embolden points that might serve as good nuggets for deeper reflection about stewardship, how we steward what God entrusts, and how we respond to God’s presence and promises.
The story begins, “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ He answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table’” (1 Kings 18:17-19, NRSV). There’s not much in the way of obvious stewardship nuggets in the beginning background of this story, but let’s keep going.
“So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response” (1 Kings 18:20-29, NRSV).
Elijah is inviting the people to put their understanding of their god to the test. Who is God? And what might God do? And are our responses to God proper and needed? Or are they in vain? (I’m not saying any of this is true, but these questions might be ways to go deeper with this story to see what it might be inviting us to reflect on from an intentional lens of stewardship.)
The story continues. “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water” (1 Kings 18:30-35, NRSV).
Elijah’s invitation here continues. And in his invitation, he is reminding the people of God. He is reminding them of who they are, Israel, as God’s people and the twelve tribes of Jacob.
The story now concludes. “At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God’” (1 Kings 18:36-39, NRSV).
God has done what God can only do, yet again. And through this act, the people might again come to know who God, who they are, and whose they are. Turning back to God. Repenting of their worship of false gods and idols. And remembering yet again of God’s presence with God’s people and God’s acts and promises throughout their history for God’s people Israel.
It’s interesting that this longer story from 1 Kings this week is suggested to be paired with a portion of Mark’s account of the Transfiguration story. There is the direct parallel between Elijah’s presence in the 1 Kings story, and his appearance with Moses, talking to Jesus on the mountaintop. The famous story begins, “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:2-4, NRSV). It’s a fitting story for All Saints in a way. And it points to God’s continued presence and promise.
In thinking about stewardship, how are you doing at sharing and pointing to God’s presence and promises? Might this be a good week in digging into these stories to point to them, and ponder with Elijah about how we might all be being called and invited to turn toward God, to be made clean, and to respond to what God can only do?
Wherever any of these stories take you, may God’s promises of the resurrection and the hope of the life to come be true, may they be reminded to you in good and new ways, and may you make them known yet again through all that you do as the beautiful and beloved Children of God, disciples, stewards, leaders, and saints and sinners that you are.