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 Christ the King Sunday are as follows:
Christ the King Sunday is upon us, and so is the end of another liturgical year. This week culminates the year long journey in the Gospel of Luke in Year C of the revised common lectionary. And with it, it returns us to the cross. To our God who will go to and through the point of death, for us. If there was ever a week to preach on stewardship as it is a response to what God does for us, this is it. All of this, God does for God’s beloved children. All of this, we could never earn nor deserve. But this is who God is. And this is who we are, as God’s children and the Body of Christ in the world.
As you might expect then, this week’s readings are power houses. One could powerfully preach on any one of these, and probably preach a dynamite stewardship sermon or at least offer some stewardship wisdom from each. Instead of digging deep into each one, I am just going to offer some quick observations, taking the readings in order to help open your questions and imagination up, as you discern where these stories might take you. And what word about stewardship might be timely and needed in your community.
First from Jeremiah 23. Within this is a word of caution and woe to leaders and stewards, especially those of us entrusted with the care of others. How are we doing at shepherding the sheep that God has entrusted to our care? The prophet calls, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1-2, NRSV).
God offers another way, and God will change and right the course. God explains God’s work and what God will do through the voice of the prophet. “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:3-4, NRSV). God will raise up shepherds. God will raise up leaders for the disciples. God raises up pastors, deacons, parish ministry associates, and more among us today. And God raises up all of us to unique vocations to respond to the needs of the world, and to participate in God’s work together.
God will bring about justice and righteousness, and on this Christ the King Sunday, it’s not too far a leap to read this within a lens of the prophet proclaiming of the savior to come. The first lesson concludes, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “’The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6, NRSV).
Psalm 46 might sound familiar because well, it’s one of the more famous psalms, and one of the most deeply held among Lutherans like me. For those who observed Reformation Sunday, you heard these words or even sung these words just about a month ago. We covered them here. But in looking at this psalm and stewardship consider two things, who God is (“our refuge and strength”) (Psalm 46:1, NRSV), and the lengths to which God will go for God’s people (Psalm 46:8-11, especially). And further, as we think about God’s promises, we remember God’s presence with us. We remember that God is God (46:10), and that “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:11, NRSV).
Turning to the second lesson from Colossians 1. There are ample good words and wisdom about stewardship and gratitude, and what God does for us. What is the response for what God has done? Hopefully one of joy and gratitude like expressed by the epistle writer here. We read, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14, NRSV).
What a beautiful picture of responding to God’s work for us. “Joyfully giving thanks to the Father” who provides the inheritance, rescue, redemption, and life. Joyfully giving thanks to our God, and the saving work of God in Christ, for us. For we also read, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:18-20, NRSV). This is greater articulation yet, of God’s work for us.
Now the gospel lesson from Luke 23. The last text likely read this liturgical year in many congregations brings us straight to the cross. Where on it, we pick up the story, “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34, NRSV). Grace. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Redemption. Salvation. This is yet another articulation of the length which God will go for the sake of God’s people.
The story continues with some conversation among those on their respective crosses. “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:40-43, NRSV).
On this Christ the King Sunday, we remember what Christ as King really means and looks like. It means a savior and leader who serves. Who lays down his life for another. It means one who shows unrelenting care and compassion, mercy and grace, for others. It means a kingdom where the king is not all about themselves, but is turned outward with arms outstretched offering hope and life. And as we remember who holds us fast, at the center of our faith, we do so gratefully and joyfully. We do so, remembering who God and whose we are, and leaning ever more into our lives and calls as disciples and stewards to share and steward these gifts and stories entrusted to us with the whole world which God so loves.
Sunday November 24, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- Christ the King Sunday – Week Twelve (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Josiah’s Reform
Focus Passages: 2 Kings 22:1-10 [11-20]; 23:1-3
Gospel Verse: Luke 24:30-32
In thinking about stewardship, perhaps this story this week in the narrative could be one where we might dig into the implications of leadership? Particularly as a leader is one to steward that which they lead, and to steward all the position and responsibilities entrusted to their care for the sake of the people and community they lead.
Some observations from reading in bold:
“Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:1-2, NRSV). “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” and “did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” It might not be too hard to wonder about the societal or even political implications of such an understanding of leadership, responsibility, and stewardship.
“Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly” (2 Kings 22:4-7, NRSV). Perhaps there might be a call here to consider elements of stewardship related to proper compensation for vocations and service, and an element of trust in the relationship with one another as neighbors.
Josiah executed leadership by seeking to find the truth and even repair the relationship of his people and himself with God. He directed, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us'” (2 Kings 22:13, NRSV).
In light of Josiah’s seeking of truth and in the hopes of repairing the relationship with God, God directs this response. “But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.’ They took the message back to the king'” (2 Kings 22:18-20, NRSV).
In response to God, Josiah stewarded his leadership and made a covenant before the Lord which echoes the Shema in the sense of it involving “all his heart and al his soul.” We read as this week’s story concludes, “Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kings 23:1-3, NRSV).
This story is paired on this Christ the King Sunday with a small passage from the end of Luke and the famous story of Jesus appearing on the Road to Emmaus. From that story we read, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32, NRSV).
Josiah shares the wisdom of the covenant and scriptures with his people. In concert with this, Jesus reveals the scriptures through his life and teaching, but then also in his conversation on the road after the resurrection. God shows up in our midst. Often unexpectedly, but God shows up and is present, always with us. It is part of our call as stewards and disciples, to remember this, to listen, to share, and to point to God’s activity, in, around, and for, us. In this sense it’s also a paramount of leadership. Are we leaning in faithfully and fully? If so, might we show up and lead in such a way as Josiah? Remembering that God is with us in it, in the good and bad and easy and hard of life; and that all that we do, we do as a Child of God whom God has entrusted with all that makes us each uniquely who we are.
In whatever ways the stories move you this week, may God’s love be proclaimed and God’s presence be made known to you and through you. And may we all point to and proclaim God in Christ crucified and resurrected for the sake of the world God so loves.