Preaching on Stewardship- November 17, 2019- The Twenty Third 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 Third Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday November 17, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 33 (Year C)
First Lesson: Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
Second Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Gospel of Luke 21:5-19

Like last week, the readings this week aren’t the most obvious ones for thinking about stewardship. But digging below the surface might open some nuggets and starting questions for thinking about stewardship in this penultimate week of the church year. Let’s take the readings in order.

The first lesson from the prophet Malachi includes the first two verses of the final chapter of this short book. Within this short passage we read, “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2, NRSV). This prophecy sounds like good news. It’s proclaiming what God will do. Like last week, resurrection is real and so is the joy that comes with it. It’s a fitting theme for this last week before Christ the King Sunday and the close of another lectionary year. In terms of stewardship, there is an element of joyful and grateful response here too, as we hear that “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Imagine that seen. The amount of joy and excitement is palpable. I wonder, are we so joyful and excited when we remember and proclaim all that God does for us, and promises to do? 

Psalm 98 recounts God’s work and the relationship between God and God’s people. In terms of stewardship it might be a great text for thinking about God’s story and how we are heirs of it, stewards and disciples within it, and responding to it. The psalm begins, “O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory…He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God” (Psalm 98:1-3, NRSV). Do we “sing to the Lord a new song?” If we do, that might well be our grateful and joyful response.

Need a picture of what a joyful response might look like in life? How about this, father and daughter- laughing, smiling, waving, and sitting together joyfully and gratefully? Thanks God for such a wonderful day, and for all that you do and promise to do for your children.

This grateful and joyful response might include joy filled music which the psalmist describes. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord” (Psalm 98:4-6, NRSV). What a beautiful articulation of what a joyful response might sound like and look like. If preaching on stewardship, perhaps focusing on these three verses might make for a timely stewardship sermon. 

The psalmist isn’t done though. The psalm concludes, “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:7-9, NRSV). Creation gives thanks and praise for all that God has done, and waits for what God has promised is to come. In this sense there is more stewardship wisdom here, also because within this is a reminder of what is God’s work (and especially work that is not ours nor could we ever do, because thankfully we are not God).

The second lesson comes from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. In thinking about stewardship there are possibilities for digging into themes related to work, labor, and vocation. Themes that surface when Paul acknowledges not wanting to be “a burden,” a theme you might often hear from family or those facing crisis about life, health, and work situations. Paul writes, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8, NRSV).

In thinking about stewardship, a word of caution. This isn’t Paul talking about not caring for those in need, or perhaps tying care for another to some kind of work requirements (themes that are pretty prevalent in certain political conversations in our world and society). But Paul is acknowledging the proper relationship of work and compensation, and doing what he can to help others. In this sense, perhaps this is a good text for thinking about stewardship as it relates to vocation. 

The same caution about politics and society needs to be kept in mind in reading the following verses. Paul continues, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-13, NRSV). This story from Paul is a call to do what you can. To not take things for granted. In terms of stewardship it is to remember that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. And that includes our lives, talents, strengths, passions, and gifts. If we are not using them, then are we living faithfully as stewards of all that God entrusts? It would be fair to wonder at the very least.

In turning to the gospel, if it were up to me for thinking about stewardship, I would highly encourage you to include at the front end of this reading this week, Luke 21:1-4, which is about the widow’s offering. Including that observation and story about abundance and poverty might provide a new lens for thinking about Luke 21:5-19 and all of its teachings in the temple from Jesus about the destruction of the Temple to come, end-times, and the hard road ahead for the disciples and for being a disciple and steward in general.

In the included verses, the story for this week begins, “When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them'” (Luke 21:5-8, NRSV). No stone will be left on stone. In God things will change. And change though important can often be hard, and sometimes scary. That might be an understatement. But that’s what Jesus is teaching about today. Because with God and the in-breaking of the kingdom, there will be changes.

There will be those who think they know what they’re talking about it, and they don’t. This story always makes me wonder, am I one who knows what they’re talking about it, or am I one Jesus is warning about? My hope and trust is that I am more of the first than the second. But every preacher, pastor, deacon, and leader in faith needs to ponder this often. As a steward, though these words might be hard, they remind us to keep things in perspective. It’s not about us, it’s about God. It’s not our stuff, it’s God’s. And that includes the stones of the temple, and even the two small copper coins the widow placed into the treasury (Luke 21:1-2).

Jesus keeps teaching about the end times and the challenges to come. In spite of the changes and hardness of the experience, Jesus says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:13, NRSV). This will provide an opportunity to tell God’s story and point to God’s activity in, around, through, and for the whole world. It is a hard thing to be a disciple which Jesus is warning about (Luke 21:14-19) in these final hours before the events of the passion begin with that passover meal and all the rest that follows. But Jesus is also providing another stewardship truth that God is with them, just as God is with us. And through that presence God gives and entrusts God’s beloved children, disciples and stewardship with “words and a wisdom” (Luke 21:15), and “endurance” (Luke 21:19).

This life of being a steward and disciple is not always easy. And perhaps that is the greatest theme from this gospel story this week? But even so, it’s full of reminders that this is about God’s work. That God is with us, for us, and loves us. Amid the challenges of life and this walk together, God is right there making it possible, and making worth it. Because we have this beautiful story, the best story of God, to tell and share with the world. It has been entrusted to our care to point to and proclaim through our lives as stewards and disciples. And there is no greater purpose or calling as a Child of God than this.

Sunday November 17, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost – Week Eleven (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Isaiah’s Vineyard Song
Focus Passages: Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-5
Gospel Verse: Mark 12:1-3

The narrative this week moves to Isaiah’s Vineyard Song. Where Israel is imagined as a vineyard, in which God goes looking for good fruit and finds instead injustice (Isaiah 5:1-7). Israel is pictured as a vineyard. God looks for the fruit of righteousness but finds only injustice. God promises a faithful king who will judge with righteousness. To rectify the situation, God will do a new thing as we read about a new shoot that will come out of the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-5).

Isaiah 5 begins with this parable about the vineyard, “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Isaiah 5:1-7, NRSV).

Thank goodness this is but a story. Because if not, it might well be God changing God’s mind, forgetting the promises made to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Promises about God not turning God’s back on God’s people. But it certainly wouldn’t be hard to imagine what God might have been feeling according to the prophet Isaiah here.

In thinking about stewardship, perhaps this week’s theme might be a reminder that if it were just up to us, we would always mess it up? Injustice would abound. Stewardship and discipleship would be weak at best. At least that is what comes to mind with the first half of this week’s reading.

But then we read Isaiah 11. From Isaiah 5 and the destruction of a kingdom gone wrong, we come to a story about a future peaceful kingdom. We read a story of hope and redemption. A story full of God’s promises to bring about the restoration and reconciliation which God promises. A story which seems fitting as we move into the start of Advent in a couple weeks, and especially fitting for thinking about stewardship and remembering all that God does, has done, and will do, for us. When we remember all of the lengths and depths that God will go to, because of God’s beloved. 

With this in mind we read in Isaiah 11, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins” (Isaiah 11:1-5, NRSV).

This is good news. Full of God’s promises. It’s God’s story which we are entrusted with. How are we sharing it? How are we responding to it as stewards and disciples? And how are we doing as those disciples, entrusted with the presence of the spirit of the Lord who is with us always?

Questions abound with both lectionaries and these stories this week. But they are good questions to wrestle with. Though there might not be the obvious stewardship story on the surface, if you dig a little deeper, there’s a good chance you might find some stewardship nuggets worth wondering.

In whatever way the Spirit moves you this week, may God’s presence be with you, and may the challenges and joys of stewardship and discipleship be made known to you and through you, resting assuredly in the promises of God’s love for us.

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