This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for The Presentation of our Lord and the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:
As February 2nd falls on a Sunday this year, many congregations may observe the festival day of the “Presentation of Our Lord.” It’s a great day, though falling where it does on the calendar, it might mean having a little odd feeling as regarding the lectionary, as you would bounce back from Jesus’ ministry after his baptism to his infancy and being presented in the temple. If your context is observing this feast day, here are some stewardship observations to ponder.
The stories this week remind us of God’s promises, and the words of the prophets about all that God has done and especially will do, for us. Words like Malachi offers and proclaims, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:2-4, NRSV).
As Jesus is presented in the Temple in this week’s gospel, perhaps some stewardship thoughts on how our church buildings are sanctuaries, and we too are sanctuaries of God’s love and God’s work and promises in the world might be timely? The psalmist may give us words to this, singing, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2, NRSV). There’s an added benefit from a stewardship perspective in this, in that the psalmist also names joy, and the response our very body makes for all that God does, is doing, will do, and has done, for us.
The heart of this week’s festival though is within the gospel story and the Nunc Dimittis (the song of Simeon) which might close the liturgy of communion in worship. “Now Lord you let your servant go in peace…” These words come from Simeon who has waited and waited, promised to see God’s salvation. He does this when Jesus is presented in the temple.
Hear these familiar words again. “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’” (Luke 2:28-32, NRSV). Simeon is declaring what God has done and is testifying to this. In terms of stewardship this is a great example of God’s story being made manifest, and an opportunity to God’s promises and fulfillment of those promises in our midst. Perhaps we might share some about what we have seen God doing in our lives? In the life of our congregation? And how God is showing up yet again in the unexpected ways (even like that of an infant or toddler) as a sign of life? (Or maybe in the form of a prayer ground in worship as I experienced this past week.)
The story isn’t done though. The gospel includes Jesus’ parents reactions and some more words from Simeon as well as that of Anna, a female prophet. We read, “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too’” (Luke 2:33-35, NRSV). God is up to something here. We know the rest of the story, but still, to dwell in this, this week might be a rich opportunity to sit with some wonder at the amazingness of it all. From the vulnerability of a baby and toddler, will grow to be the one who is our savior and friend. God is with us, God loves us, and God is for us.
Now the story concludes with a word about the prophet Anna. “There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:36-40, NRSV).
Simeon gets a whole song in worship in his words. Anna doesn’t. I wonder why that might be? Because Anna has been just as faithful, and as she has never left the Temple since being a widow, she praises God and prophecies about what all that this child will do. She declares what God is doing. She shares the news and tells the story. How are we telling the story? How do we proclaim God’s promises and saving work for us in all that we do and all that we are?
Perhaps for a different stewardship lens this week, we might ponder about Anna and use her example as a way to think about stewardship here and now. The stewardship of God’s on-going story that we are all a part of, and to all of us whom God has entrusted it to us to share. May we be as joyful and grateful as Anna is in sharing this good news in the story this week.
Sunday February 2, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year A), Lectionary 4
First Lesson: Micah 6:1-8
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Gospel of Matthew 5:1-12
If not observing the Presentation of Our Lord, then these will be the readings that likely shape your worship this week. In terms of stewardship there is great depth in these, especially for thinking about how we live and serve as disciples and stewards. For how we walk in the world and use what has been entrusted to our care. And especially for how we steward our relationships with others, which God calls us into and entrusts to us.
The readings are off to a fast start with the familiar and deep words of the prophet Micah. These words this week include his famous verse 6:8. Micah writes, “’With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8, NRSV).
How do we do the work of justice? How do we love kindness? How do we walk humbly with God? Are our actions pointing to these commitments and values? Is our social media presence a beacon of this? Or might we need to recommit or reorient ourselves away from the finger pointing and division so rampant in our world today, to again remember that we are all Children of God, called to love one another. Not called to build walls and towers, but to build bridges. To open doors, providing justice for the weak, the poor, and the lowly. To provide kindness to our neighbors and strangers, no questions asked, simply because that is what it means to be a disciple.
We may also need a reminder that it is not all about us. It’s about God, and we’re called to walk humbly with God. Not to boast about ourselves. Not to tweet ad nauseam about our accomplishments (factual or perceived). No. To recognize we don’t do it all, we don’t know it all, but to trust that God is with us. Walking with us, and wanting to be in relationship with us to the point where God uses us daily to provide for each other’s bread, and to share God’s love in the world as bearers of God’s light, hope, and justice. To preach on stewardship on this text would be quite a timely thing to do.
The psalmist echoes these themes this week. Asking, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15:1-5, NRSV).
This is what it means and looks like to be a Child of God. This is what it looks like to serve and live and grow as disciples and stewards. Not to expect reciprocity from our neighbor, and ask, “what have you done for me lately?” No, but rather, to see each other as equals and do what you can, simply because it is right and God calls us to do it. I fear this is a message we are failing to hear and heed in our world and society right now especially. We so need to be reminded of this clear call from God. And as preachers and teachers of the faith, we are entrusted with a responsibility to point to this, even when its hard or not appreciated by those we serve and walk alongside.
Perhaps this is the prophetic nature of our ministry. When the world gets off track, it’s all of our jobs to point to the other way we know to be true in the one who gave Himself for us. The one who as Paul writes this week that we proclaim about, “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23, NRSV). There’s a cross at the center of this life as a steward and disciple. That means it’s not going to always be an easy life. But it’s a deeply meaningful one, where we are turned outward toward our neighbors for the sake of the world that is hurting, broken, and in pain. But a world that God created and still very much loves and cares for. We’re called to be bearers and stewards of that love, and that love is abundant.
Paul goes on, writing, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, NRSV). If one must boast, or tweet, may we do so about God and what God has done and is doing. Not about ourselves. Because again, it’s not about us. It’s about God and what God is doing and providing in abundance for the world that God so deeply loves.
This love perhaps is best summed up this week in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Where in our gospel reading we hear Jesus’ famous treaties known as the Beatitudes or blessings. Jesus is making it pretty clear what we’re expected to be and to do in this preaching this week. I don’t know about you, but I sure have a lot to confess as I (like all of us) fall short. Thank goodness God offers us forgiveness and grace, and another chance to try again, to see our neighbors and the world in need all around us, calling us to respond and join in God’s work in some way.
Jesus preaches, “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12, NRSV).
In reading these familiar words, I can’t help but hear the melody from David Haas in my head of his great song, “Blest Are They.” That hymn puts a lyrical and rhythmic flow to this text which adds, at least for me, a layer of poignancy. We rejoice and are glad knowing God in Christ’s promises for us. But we also know that we are called into this life as Children of God to grow as disciples and serve as stewards, and this learning, growth, and service won’t always be easy. But it’s imperative.
It’s not for our sake. It’s for our sibling’s. It’s for the sake of those in need all around us- needs we may see, and often may not. We each have needs, and God uses us with our capacity which God creates and entrusts to us, to help meet each others needs and bear hope and love for one another, resting in the one who is at the center making it all possible. The one who abundantly gives and provides. The one who holds us fast and shows us the way.
Sunday February 2, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany– Week Twenty Two (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Jairus’ Daughter Healed
Focus Passages: Mark 5:21-43
Accompanying Psalm: Psalm 131
The narrative moves from one healing story on the side of the sea, to two others on another side of the lake. Jesus is busy going about the work of bringing healing, life, and salvation to people praying and greatly in need. People often marginalized or ostracized. People that society and the community have learned and grown to ignore. But Jesus doesn’t ignore them. He sees them, and he shows up with them and for them. And that’s where we find ourselves again this week.
The story begins. “When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him” (Mark 5:21-24, NRSV).
Jairus is doing what any parent would do if they heard of an option that might save their child. They will move heaven and earth to do what they can for their child’s sake. It’s not unlike getting up in the middle of a night to take one’s toddler into the ER when hearing them struggle to breathe. Parents, I speak now as one of them, will do anything and everything they can to try and help life go well for their children. (That’s interestingly not dissimilar to God’s work in the law which God gives to us so that life might go well for us according to my seminary professor Terry Fretheim.) So it’s understandable that Jairus would show up seeking Jesus. He’s heard about him, and what Jesus has been apparently able to do, so why not see if he can do the same for his daughter? Perhaps putting him at odds with others of the synagogue, but the vocation of a parent is one that often trumps all other vocations.
Interestingly enough, we also see that a large crowd was following. This act of healing will be a large opportunity now for the world to see what this man is doing, and more so, what God might be doing through him. They have come to see and witness. And so too has a woman who has been neglected and ostracized. A woman who will take the courageous step not to stop Jesus, but to just try and reach out to him for healing and hope. And so she does, and of course Jesus notices.
“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease’” (Mark 5:25-34, NRSV).
To hear these words, could you imagine if you were the woman? “Your faith has made you well; go in peace…” How freeing. How life giving. This is precisely what God does for us. And by being in the crowd, the multitude have a chance to see God’s actions and work publicly. But in this moment, even with a crowd so great gathered round, Jesus and the woman have a intimate moment. She is no doubt trembling and afraid. But she trusts and has the courage to come forward. And that trust, is reciprocated by Jesus by not only wanting to see her face to face, but to give her the words of freedom that go along with the healing act. The words of blessing and sending like we might hear at the end of worship or an act of confession. God has done God’s thing. Thanks be to God. And now the woman, like us, are sent out freed and restored to share God’s love and to share all that God has done. I doubt this woman will have any trouble telling the story of God’s saving love and work for her. May she be a model for all of us in our lives to be.
But our story isn’t done. After the woman is healed, news comes from Jairus’ home. “While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat” (Mark 5:35-43, NRSV).
It’s so interesting how often that Jesus tries to order people to not tell about what God has done, like he does at the end of this story. But you can trust word would spread. The community would see the girl, out and about. She was not dead but alive. And this would be one more healing and resurrection story, an example of God showing up and doing what God does to bring life, healing, and restoration. Work we couldn’t do ourselves nor ever earn, but work God does because God loves us and chooses to be in relationship with us. As stewards it would behoove us to not listen to Jesus’ words to not tell the story, but rather to laugh at them, and then share gratitude and joy for God’s saving work for this girl and for all of us.
Whichever story or lectionary you find yourself following this week, may you see and witness God’s love, and may you point to God’s promise and presence for you and for the world in all that you say, proclaim, and do.