Preaching on Stewardship- February 9, 2020- The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:

Sunday February 9, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Year A), Lectionary 5
First Lesson: Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]
Psalm 112:1-9 [10]
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]
Gospel of Matthew 5:13-20

This Sunday continues many of the themes from last week. We hear more words from the prophets about what it is we are to do in our lives as disciples and stewards. We hear more from Jesus as he continues his Sermon on the Mount. Paul keeps writing about the Crucified Christ, though there isn’t as much in this portion in chapter 2 on stewardship as there was perhaps last week. And the psalmist points to more of God’s work, and our call and invitation to be a part of it by living faithfully as a disciple and servant.

Let’s start with the prophet Isaiah. Within this week’s reading, Isaiah writes perhaps rhetorically about God’s work, and work we too are called to be part of in our lives as disciples. He writes, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7, NRSV).

This life together in relationship with one another and with God in community is perhaps part of what the prophet is highlighting here. For when we are in right relationship, we see each other and we care for each other as we ought and are able. When we are not in right relationship, not only do we not care as we ought, we probably do not see God in the world right in front of us, with us, in the face of the one who needs our attention and care.

Isaiah also writes about call, connecting our call to our stewardship and discipleship and service toward others. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9-10, NRSV). This isn’t a works righteousness thing here. But Isaiah is pointing to, when one cares for their neighbor and removes the obstacles to relationships with one another and with God, God’s light shines and the darkness of sin, death, and the world cannot overwhelm it. 

The psalmist picks up on this theme from the prophets of caring for those in need, and of living and doing what is right that we covered last week. The psalmist proclaims, “Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever. They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice” (Psalm 112:1-5, NRSV).

There is a risk in passages like this that we might cherry pick them and make them sound as if they are prosperity gospel defenses. This one is not. But if we took verses 2-3 out of the context of the whole passage, it might seem like they would be. But rather what the psalmist is saying here, that life goes well for those in relationship with God who do as God commands, who are generous and lend (not to make interest or with commit usury or in avarice), and who act and conduct themselves with justice. When understanding this passage in this larger view point it becomes words of wisdom about stewardship and how we live and deal with each other.

Further, this psalm offers one more reminder about how we are called as stewards and disciples to care for the poor. Of those who are in right relationship with God and one another, the psalmist says, “They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor” (Psalm 112:9, NRSV). There’s good news here. But there’s also good summary of some of the many ways we are called to live as God’s people in the world.

In terms of stewardship this week, my first read of the second lesson doesn’t seem like an obvious preaching text for stewardship this week. So if it were me, I would probably lean most heavily into the gospel lesson. We find ourselves on the Mount with Jesus, who is continuing early on in his Sermon on the Mount. He has just finished his recounting of the Beatitudes or blessings, with a reminder to “rejoice and be glad.” But now he talks more about us as disciples and stewards and how we are to be “salt of the earth.”

your light shall rise
“Your light shall rise” by Vonda Drees. (A picture shared on this blog from friend Vonda Drees back in February 2016, that feels just as poignant and relevant this week.) Check out her website here for more of her beautiful artwork and reflections: 

Jesus proclaims, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16, NRSV).

We’re called as disciples and stewards to be salt of the earth. But woe to us if we lose our saltiness. We are called to be the light of the world, to radiate Christ’s light of love for all. Our places of worship of God, our communities as part of the Kingdom of God are to be cities built on hills, not to hide but to clearly tell the story through word and deed of God’s love, of who we are and whose we are as Children of God. And we are called, as we often hear in our baptisms, to let our lights shine before others so that others might see our good works and give glory to God. This isn’t works righteousness, but rather living life as disciples and stewards, being bearers of God’s love in the world. Living out our baptized lives, growing as disciples and serving as generous stewards of God’s love.

Jesus finishes this section of his sermon by adding some thoughts about the kingdom of heaven, and how he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (A reminder about the law- the purpose of the law is that life might go well for you, and for us to be in right relationship with each other and with God, at least according to some of my favorite Old Testament professors). Jesus preaches, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20, NRSV).

There’s good stuff again this week in the lectionary. Some hard stuff to be sure, but good food for thought for thinking and preaching about discipleship and stewardship.

Sunday February 9, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany– Week Twenty Three (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Death of John the Baptist
Focus Passages: Mark 6:1-29
Accompanying Psalm: Psalm 122

The narrative moves this week from Jesus being out and about healing people while journeying around the lake, back to his hometown of Nazareth where he’s rejected. From that experience he moves on to send out the twelve, and then we hear of the story of Herod’s orders and execution of John the Baptist.

From healing Jairus’ daughter, Jesus, “left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:1-3, NRSV). Not the most welcoming of returns home.

Jesus didn’t take too kindly to their coldness. Saying, “‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching” (Mark 6:4-6, NRSV). I suspect Jesus was glad to hit the road again, to go about teaching and his work in places perhaps more willing to receive him and welcoming to him.

Jesus then, once having left Nazareth turns to calling and sending disciples. Calling and sending the twelve, but perhaps also calling and sending us. Equipped and empowered to grow as disciples, to share generously as stewards, and to serve as Jesus taught and modeled. “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:7-13, NRSV).

God’s work was done through them. Perhaps this week might be a chance again to think about how we ourselves are stewards and disciples. In what ways does God show up through, in, around, under, and for us? How does God do God’s work in some ways through us? God showed up through the disciples bringing healing, restoration, and reconciliation. God shows up today doing the same thing, through us. (Though perhaps not as dramatically with healing or casting out demons.)

Now as this work was happening, the work and news of Jesus spread to King Herod. Needless to say, this story gets darker in a hurry. Herod has beheaded John the Baptist, and thinks Jesus is really John resurrected. As we read, “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised’” (Mark 6:14-16, NRSV).

After going through the gruesome details and sinful request for John’s head on a platter, John’s death is completed. “Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb” (Mark 6:27-29, NRSV). Perhaps some foreshadowing of the tomb to come later for Jesus? Needless to say, it’s a dark story, but it doesn’t seem to stop Jesus and the disciples from doing the work they are doing. Perhaps if anything, it propels them further into their ministry and lives as disciples. Recognizing that they are called to this. It’s not always easy, and it’s very much life and death. But here they are, following Jesus’ example to heal, to love, and proclaim about God.

Psalm 122 is suggested to be paired with this text. I might dig into verses 6-9, and think about peace. How do we share Christ’s peace with our stewardship and discipleship? How do we bear God’s peace in a world so in need of feeling and experiencing it? The psalmist writes, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.’ For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good” (Psalm 122:6-9, NRSV). “For the sake of the house of the Lord…” Perhaps this is a good reminder about why we do what we do as disciples and stewards, and a good opportunity to preach given this story from Mark 6, about our lives as disciples and stewards. 

Whatever draws your imagination and attention this week in these stories, may God’s love fill you, and may you proclaim God’s work and love for all of God’s beloved this week.

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