Preaching on Stewardship- March 1, 2020- The First Sunday in Lent

This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent are as follows:

Sunday March 1, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The First Sunday in Lent (Year A)
First Lesson: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Second Lesson: Romans 5:12-19
Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11

Given it’s already Friday, and I have been way behind this week, I am going to offer my thoughts rather quickly in just snapshot form, in order of the readings in the lectionary.

Burning last year’s palms to make this year’s ashes for Ash Wednesday at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Schuyler, Nebraska. As I look at these flames and palms, I think about life, mortality, but also how we are called to care for all that is entrusted to us, so that life might go well.

As challenging as the Genesis story might be, especially for how it has been misused to blame women over the course of history, I think there is one stewardship nugget worth highlighting. That of responsibility and entrusting. We read that, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, NRSV). God has given us something to do. Our vocations, to “till and keep,” to care for creation, to steward, and farm. To use, but not to denigrate. We have a responsibility to be good stewards, and in many ways this responsibility can be traced all the way back to the very beginning of our story and existence here in the garden itself. 

This entrusting act is one that is at least two fold. So that on the one hand, we have something meaningful and worthwhile to do, or purpose in life if you will. But also, so that we might be taken care of and live fully and abundantly. God does this, because God wants us to live fully and abundantly. But also because God wants us to choose life. This theme of life, is highlighted in the rest of this week’s story. Where the rules of the tree of knowledge are such so that we might not die (Genesis 2:16-17).

Despite the end result of the fall of the garden and being forced out into the rest of creation, God doesn’t abandon God’s people. The psalmist reminds us of this, saying, “You are a hiding-place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7, NRSV). I have the words of the somewhat old contemporary song, “You Are My Hiding Place” ringing through my ears in hearing this familiar verse. God is with us. God is for us. And God loves us. These are true, and good and important reminders for our sense of discipleship and stewardship. 

Alongside this is a reminder of God’s steadfast love which surrounds us, and our response to this love of joy and gratitude. We read, “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart” (Psalm 32:10-11, NRSV).

Turning to the second lesson, Paul points to the good news of God in Christ, through whom we will be justified and made right with God. He writes, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19, NRSV). This is good news, something worth repeating in terms of stewardship, especially as we think about why we do what we do.

Finally, as it is the First Sunday in Lent, that means we go back in the gospel story to right after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus finds himself in the wilderness fasting, and being tempted by the devil. It’s no wonder why we renounce the forces of sin, death, and the devil in our baptism, because Jesus himself had to endure these forces in light of his own. The waters clean us, but they also call us to see and be changed.

The story is always an interesting one though. Despite what some son of a president might have said or tweeted a few weeks ago, the devil very much knows and quotes scripture quite well as proven by this story. But Jesus refutes each quotation putting them in their proper context which informs us about our relationship with God and one another, as stewards and disciples of God’s love. 

For instance, we read, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’ (Matthew 4:1-4, NRSV). God provides, and with God, we not only live, but we live fully and abundantly.

We also read later in the story that, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him'” (Matthew 4:8-11, NRSV).

In terms of stewardship, this gospel story may not be the best one ever. But it offers a chance to think about temptation, sin, and how our inner desires and needs may sometimes get in the way of our relationship with each other and even more so, with God. These relationships matter, and when we are intentional in them, much of what we need is provided for, in community and love. That’s not to say that there isn’t hunger in the world. There is. And we’re called to be bearers of that food and meet the needs of our neighbors, with all of the resources we are entrusted with, just as Adam and Eve were entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the garden in our first lesson. We’re called to care for one another.

Perhaps this Lenten season may be a reminder to take up that call and vow yet again. Despite the worldly and sinful forces that might move to divide us, to break us off into likeminded communities or build walls to separate, or to turn inward and just focus on ourselves (as the devil might try to do to Jesus in this gospel story), we’re called to be together! We’re called to be in relationship with one another. To meet each other’s needs. We’re called to care for the sick, whether the flu, the coronavirus, the plague, Ebola, or what have you…

We are called for this. We are created for this. We are to be bearers of God’s love in the world, for each other. Period. It’s not an “if, then” proposition. No. We’re called to this, because the one who gave himself for us, has already taken on the hard work of justifying us and making us right with God. Now, we live in the light and promise of the resurrection, with the assurance that God is with us, for us, and loves us. And the call that God’s presence with us, leads us out into a world that is beautiful and broken. Through us, some of God’s love then might be shared as part of God’s healing and restorative work in the world. And through this, God’s kingdom might break in, bit by bit.

Sunday March 1, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The First Sunday in Lent (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: First Last and Last First
Focus Passages: Mark 10:17-31
Accompanying Psalm: Psalm 19:7-10

There are some weeks where the stories may not seem like obvious stewardship ones. Then there are weeks like this, where you can’t help but feel that this is most definitely a stewardship text. To the question of “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with some of his deepest teaching on stewardship and discipleship in all of the gospels.

The story begins. “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:17-22, NRSV).

The possessions and wealth isn’t inherently bad or good in and of itself. But Jesus is calling the man to sell the stuff, and give the proceeds away to the poor, those in need and then to come and follow. He does this in part, so that those in need might be cared for. But even more so, because he knows how easily the stuff of this life, the money, the things we possess or hoard can become gods in and of themselves. They can claim power in our minds, and get in the way of our relationships with God and our neighbors so easily. A good Lenten practice then might be not to give something up, but rather to spend a season going through one’s possessions and seeing what we might be able to steward by sharing with others, and free ourselves up from some of the weight of all the stuff that holds us down.

Jesus continues, “Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible’” (Mark 10:23-27, NRSV).

No one said that stewardship and discipleship is easy. No one said that these lives changed, would be easy to live as stewards and disciples. Jesus is being abundantly clear about this. A life of the cross is one with challenges and sacrifice. It’s one of letting things go, and being changed. It’s one of following. Peter seems to get this, but only to a point. So Jesus again tries to explain the depth of this life and the extent to which we are to steward and share all that God entrusts.

“Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first’” (Mark 10:28-31, NRSV).

In God there is a great reversal. The “first will be last, and the last will be first.” How are we doing, at living into the knowledge of this? Friends, lest you think you’re the poor ones, if you are reading this, statistically you are more than likely one of the rich ones Jesus is talking about. These words sting. But they are words of life, to put life in perspective, to be alert, and to not fall victim to the lies of scarcity and the power that wealth and possessions can take over our lives, overwhelming us and cutting us off from what really matters- our lives, loves, and relationships with God and one another.

The included psalm this week puts things in perspective to help us remember what truly matters. God’s word and God’s presence is truly more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. As the psalmist proclaims, “the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:9-10, NRSV).

In whatever direction these stories move you this week, may God’s abundant love be reminded to you, and made real through you and for you this week.

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