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 First Sunday of Advent are as follows:
Happy new year, church! A new year begins this Sunday as we enter the season of Advent. In the United States, that means that the first Sunday of Advent falls this year at the close of Thanksgiving weekend. In thinking about stewardship, given there may not be as much in the way of obvious stewardship nuggets in the readings this week, that may be a way to frame stewardship. Think about Thanksgiving in response to God’s work, but especially in response this week and season to God’s promises. Promises of new life. Promises of God with us. Promises of the incarnation and hope for the Messiah to come. Promises and hopes for reconciliation, redemption, resurrection, and salvation.
A couple notes from the texts this week. In thinking about the stories, perhaps Isaiah and Matthew might be most helpful if looking for some intentional stewardship nuggets.
Isaiah is rich with imagery we associate with the Advent season. This week we hear of what God will do, and how the people will be drawn to God, as to learn from God and walk with God. In a way, perhaps Isaiah is foretelling of people living, growing, and walking in their lives as stewards and disciples?
From the first lesson we read, ” The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:1-5, NRSV)
It’s easy to see a number of the baptismal promises (or marks of discipleship) in this story. For example:
- “To live among God’s faithful people,” could be surmised from “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…” *
- “To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,” could be seen from “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” *
- “To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,” could be seen from the above, through Isaiah’s act of telling and prophesying, but also through the words at the end of this passage, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” *
- “To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,” could be seen perhaps through what God will do as, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples…” *
- “To strive for justice and peace in all the earth,” could be seen in what God will do, and specifically how the people might respond, as “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” *
Perhaps considering what this story might say about the baptismal promises, especially as we begin a new year in the church, and a new year dwelling particularly in the Gospel of Matthew, might make a fruitful way to reflect on stewardship and discipleship.
Now turning to Matthew, as is the case in the week one of Advent every year, our reading to begin the season is one with apocalyptic undertones. What is to come? How will we be ready? Are we awake? Are we vigilant? Do we see that God is near? Do we see that God is active and up to something- for us, in us, through us, and with us?
Though you might hear words of woe and warning in this, and rightfully so, in reading these words again this week, I am wondering if there’s not more invitation here? See what you think.
Jesus proclaims, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:36-44, NRSV).
“Keep awake therefore,” and “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” I’ll admit, at first glance this doesn’t sound much like an invitation. But give it another thought. Within this I hear an invitation to open our selves and all of our senses. I sense an invitation to wonder and be fully present. To be aware of the things we might not always be aware of because of our busyness, distractions, stress. To sit in quiet and listen for what God might be calling, saying, and inviting. Within this story perhaps God is really saying, “Children of God, open your eyes. See. For I am doing a new thing, right here with you, beside you, and for you. Come and see. Come and be a part of it. Join me.”
Perhaps this is God in Christ’s invitation for us to walk ever more intentionally this year as stewards and disciples. Surely it is an invitation to be more fully present as begin anew this year and Advent season. God is very much present with us, calling us to see that God is active and up to something. Are we able to see it, sense it, and wonder about it? Or are we so distracted by our many things of life, that we can’t seem to find a way to steward our very presence which God has entrusted to us? Maybe this is Jesus’ wake up call to us. Let’s heed it, and see and wonder together what God might be up to anew, today, and in the days and year ahead to come.
Sunday December 1, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- First Sunday of Advent – Week Thirteen (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Promise of the Messiah
Focus Passages: Jeremiah 33:14-18
Gospel Verse: Mark 8:27-29
From the historical book of 2 Kings, we move in the narrative to the prophets, this week Jeremiah. It’s a fitting place to dwell as we begin the Advent season. To listen to the proclamation of what God will do. To cling to promises and hopes. To sense the wonder and longing at such a deep level for life, hope, restoration, redemption, and even salvation really. Jeremiah this week points to the promise of the Messiah- the promise of the one to come to restore and save.
We’ll take the story as a whole from Jeremiah 33:14-18, and then I’ll offer a few stewardship nuggets that stand out to me in particular. Jeremiah proclaims, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time” (Jeremiah 33:14-18, NRSV).
This story clearly articulates some of God’s work, that God can only do. God will “fulfill the promise,” made to the house of Israel. God will “cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” And God will provide. All of this God will do because, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
This fulfillment will be matched by abundance. There will not be scarcity, but abundance. “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence…” If you need some serious stewardship wisdom, it’s right here in spades. “Shall never lack,” means that they shall enough. There will be enough, because God’s abundance will reign and suffice. For within God, there is enough for all. There is no scarcity, for scarcity is a lie and human created sin which is perpetuated by the hoarding of things and resources. But in God, everyone has enough as all is shared and provided.
The passage ends with some direction about offerings and sacrifices. These are right and good responses to God for all that God has done and promises to do for God’s people. It’s another great piece of wisdom for stewardship this week.
Think about the role of offering and stewardship as sacrifice. If God provides all and entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are, we are enough. And as we are enough, God calls us to return a portion of that which God has entrusted to us, back to God. Through that, we give our thanks and praise to God, but we also join with God in doing some of God’s work in the world. Work like providing food for the hungry around us, so that all might be fed. Work like providing housing and shelter for those homeless or at risk around us, so that all might be provided for. Work like sharing the promises and Good News of God that we know with all people, knowing that God has called us to share God’s love with all the world through word and in deed, through word and serve grounded in the sacraments.
All of this story and act points to the promise of the Messiah to come. They point to God’s presence with God’s people (Emmanuel) and for God’s people. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be hard to hear a stewardship sermon based on our story from Jeremiah this week.
For good measure, if coupling the Jeremiah story with the suggested gospel pairing, perhaps tying this altogether with our understanding of who the Messiah is, and how we share the joy of that good news with the world through our actions and words as stewards and disciples might be a timely connection to start the Advent season in your context.
The gospel pairing comes from Mark 8: “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah'” (Mark 8:27-29, NRSV). More fitting words for Advent.
Whatever ways these stories move you this week, may God’s promises fill you, and may God’s presence be with you. May you, filled and surrounded with that presence, invite your community to be grounded and centered, listening for God’s activity, and ready to respond joyfully, gratefully, and in hope.
*Note: Baptismal promises and marks of discipleship as found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 236.