Preaching on Stewardship- November 10, 2019- The Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

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 Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday November 10, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 32 (Year C)
First Lesson: Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
Second Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Gospel of Luke 20:27-38

As we march toward the end of another lectionary year, the stories turn more to the cross. They turn to the promises of God in the midst of the worry of fear, sin, death, and destruction, as we move ever closer to Christ the King Sunday and the fulfillment of Jesus’ journey to and through Jerusalem, and the beginning of another lectionary year with the start of Advent, less than a month away. There are great stories and lessons in the lectionary to be sure. But in terms of stewardship, we won’t find much in the way of the great obvious stewardship lessons from Jesus we have read the last few months. Thus, there are more nuggets to consider than whole stories when it comes to thinking and preaching about stewardship this week.

We’ll take the readings in order beginning with Job. Job offers a reminder of the hope and promise of the resurrection. Words that take on deeper meaning after All Saints Sunday last week, and knowing what is to come in the weeks ahead in our stories. We read (or sing if we would like), “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27, NRSV)

For I know that my redeemer lives…” If we are wondering why we do, what we do, this would be a perfect and succinct reason to point to. In thinking about stewardship as our response to God’s work and promises for us, it would be a good theme to run with. We live and serve as the disciples and stewards we are, because we know that our redeemer lives. This is good news. If we truly know it to be true, we can’t help but be filled with the joy of it, and gratitude for it. And this propels us to want to grow deeper in our relationship with God, and can’t help but share that joy and gratitude with the world God loves so deeply.

The psalmist echoes the themes from Job this week about God’s saving work for God’s people. The psalmist remarks, “I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand” (Psalm 17:6-7, NRSV). The psalmist reminds of who God is and what God does. This recounting of some of God’s saving work points to the story of God, a story we give thanks and praise for and lean into in our lives as stewards and disciples.

Paul picks up on the theme of gratitude and giving thanks in his second letter to the Thessalonians. He writes, “”But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NRSV).

Paul is pointing to more of God’s work for God’s people. The work that through grace, provides hope. The work that provides life and life abundant. The work that comes through and in fulfillment of the good news that was proclaimed to us, and for us, through us, and in us. How do we give thanks? How do we respond to God’s work for us? And through whom, did you hear the Good News that brought you to the faith? Any of these questions might open up food for thought about stewardship in your context or among your community.

Turning to the gospel, as mentioned above, this week’s story is not the most obvious one for thinking about stewardship. To the questions about marriage posed by those trying to trap Jesus, Jesus responds, “‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection‘” (Luke 20:34-36, NRSV). Jesus turns the question to a point and lesson about what it means and looks like to be a child of God, a child of the resurrection promise. This identity as heir of the promise is good news, one which when we lean into, leads into a life of growing discipleship and stewardship.

A beautiful and crisp Autumn sunrise out in the country. It’s easy for this seen, with the cross and church present to serve as a reminder of the Good News, hope and promise of the resurrection. God is with us. God is for us. And God loves us.

Jesus continues by offering some more connections to God’s on-going story. He continues, “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20:37-38, NRSV). God is the God “of the living.” This is good news indeed. As God is a God of life, God is a God of life abundant and the joy, hope, meaning, and purpose that comes with it. 

There is good news in these stories this week. We proclaim Christ crucified, and resurrected. And that fact, points to the reality that our God is a living God, with us, and for us. This reminder from these stories this week might make a useful stewardship reflection, especially as it connects to all of God’s work and promises for us, and how God works through, in, and around us, for God’s people.

Sunday November 10, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost – Week Ten (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day:  Hosea
Focus Passages: Hosea 11:1-9
Gospel Verse: Mark 10:13-14

Our sprint through the narrative moves to the prophet Hosea this week. In this story we hear and sense of God’s deep love for God’s children. Despite the many times we all might come up short, sin, and turn away, God refuses to give up on God’s people. This in and of itself, might make for a powerful stewardship theme this week. As we remember who we are, but more importantly who God is and thus whose we are. 

The story that we read this week comes, more or less, from God’s perspective. So in this case, imagine you’re reading almost God’s diary or love letter, where God is honestly admitting frustrations but also dreams and hopes. Our story begins in the voice of God reflecting, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols” (Hosea 11:1-2, NRSV). It’s like a parent thinking back on their child’s youth and teenage years. They meant well, but perhaps just couldn’t get it together. Yet God, as a parent, persisted.

God continues, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11:3-4, NRSV). God is recounting some of God’s work for God’s people. This is who our God is. This is what God does. And for this, we can’t help but be grateful and thankful that we have a God who cares so deeply, that God heals, comforts, nurtures and feeds. 

God comes to a point like I imagine my own parents did (probably many times) out of frustration wondering, maybe I should just let them go. Maybe they should be on their own and I should give up? Of course, God (nor most parents I know who love their children so much) could never do this. God wonders, “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all” (Hosea 11:5-7, NRSV). Again, God can’t allow this to happen.

God asks, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9, NRSV). God is recalling God’s promises made to Noah, Abraham, and Jacob (among others). God will not give into the earned wrath or scorn, no God will continue to work towards love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is an act and move that God can only make when the opposite might rightfully be earned. It’s an act of grace one could argue God’s people have never earned (nor could they). But God does this anyway, because this is who God is.

God will continue to show up and care for the people who are God’s children. God will continue to call them and welcome them into God’s arms. God will continue to show concern and compassion for all that God has created and is God’s, beloved. In terms of stewardship, repeating this is imperative. For when we understand this, it becomes clearer as to why we are stewards at all. We can’t help but feel enveloped in God’s deep love, and that love propels us out. We’re enfolded in it, gathered in it, and sent in it. Sent to share it, and point to God’s loving presence already there, everything, in, through, and around us. 

This story from Hosea pairs well with our appointed Gospel accompaniment this week from Mark 10. In this familiar story we read that, “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs'” (Mark 10:13-14, NRSV).

When we start to make a fuss and keep certain people out, God shows up and says “let them come to me.” Whenever we feel the human nature concern to divide, God shows up on the other side. Whenever we think it’s “us vs. them,” we have missed the point of what the Kingdom of God is. We have lost sight that it breaks in bit by bit in our world through acts of welcome, inclusion, and sharing God’s deep love with the whole world which God loves. God’s love is not an exclusive thing meant for a few. It’s an inclusive thing, meant for many. If it weren’t inclusive, well, it would be easy to imagine that we would have read some different words this week from Hosea, wouldn’t we?

All of this is Good News, about how inclusive God’s grace is- how inclusive and expansive God’s love is. And how we are continually challenged, as hard as it is at times to open ourselves to others, to see that God is not just for you and me, God is for all of God’s people. And that might well make us uncomfortable. But again, it’s not just about us. It’s about God, and this is who our God is. Thanks be to God.

In whatever ways the good news of our God moves you this week, may God’s presence and Spirit fill you, and guide you to see God’s deep love in a new way, and to point to and share that love through all that you do, say, and proclaim.

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