This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Second Sunday in Lent are as follows:
Blessing. Saving. Salvation. Promises. Life. All of these things show up in the stories of the lectionary this week. All of these things are central parts of our life as stewards and disciples too. For this second Sunday in Lent, focusing on these things may be the means to some timely and meaningful reflections about stewardship. As we usually do, let’s take the stories in order as they come.
Within the first lesson we read, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran” (Genesis 12:1-4a, NRSV).
The idea of being “blessed to be a blessing,” comes largely from this story. Through us, some of God’s work is done. Through us, God uses us, and works through us, in us, with us, and for us, for all of God’s children and creation. We too, like our father Abram (or Abraham) are blessed to be a blessing. God entrusts us with what we have, so that we might live full and abundant lives, which are deeply meaningful. God entrusts us with what we have too, so that we might be able to not only be a blessing to others, but that through us, they may feel and see God- God’s love, God’s presence, and God’s desire to be in relationship with them too. With what we have been entrusted, God uses us to meet our neighbors’ needs. That’s a stewardship thing. That’s a discipleship thing. And it’s all about God’s covenantal promises, and relationship. God chooses to be with us, in relationship with us. And that has meaning, like the depth of meaning about bearing blessing upon blessing.
The psalmist reminds us about salvation and from where our help comes. Psalm 121 needs little introduction. It’s one of the more famous psalms for proclaiming God’s saving work. Made famous in many writings, it’s also the psalm that is repeated in The Sound of Music too. When the VonTrapp family looks for its escape, the Mother Abyss reminds Maria of this psalm. “I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2, NRSV).
God is our helper. The same God that “made heaven and earth,” and that made all that is. The same God whose we are. Repeating the notion from Psalm 24, that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…” (Psalm 24:1, NRSV). Our God is a creator, but also all that is, is God’s. That’s a stewardship reminder. Along with the reminder that God is not absent, but very much present. With us always. As we also remember from this psalm that, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore” (Psalm 121:7-8, NRSV).
Rich texts all the way around this week. There’s no denying that. And they keep coming as we move to the second lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans. A lesson about promises and grace. Paul writes, “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham for he is the father of all of us” (Romans 4:13-16, NRSV).
God’s promises aren’t for just a few. They rest on grace, and are guaranteed to all of Abraham’s descendants, who are and have been “blessed to be a blessing.” Because of our identity as heirs of the promise and Children of God, we are saved by grace through faith. Not by works or the law, or our own choosing or anything we could do or earn. No. By pure grace, a gift of God’s love and a fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises made to Abraham, recalled to Moses, reminded by the prophets, and eventually fulfilled and proclaimed by Christ himself.
These promises and gift are perhaps most clear in the gospel story itself this week, though. It’s one which needs little introduction. Perhaps the most quoted verse in all of scripture, John 3:16 is in this passage this week. But I would encourage you to look at the whole passage, not just that one verse. And if anything, focus even more so on the final verse in this section, John 3:17. With that greater context, John 3:16 is much more meaningful and not exclusive, but rather wide and more inclusive than we could ever imagine or comprehend.
The gospel story begins. “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (John 3:1-8, NRSV).
In these first 8 verses, there’s quite a lot going on. Nicodemus, a Pharisee is well meaning and I think genuine in trying to learn and understand. He goes to Jesus earnestly trying to have a conversation with someone of deep wisdom about God, trying to learn and grow in his own understanding of God’s presence. Jesus honors the conversation. Though it’s a hard one, because as this is the Gospel of John, there are more words and deep philosophical things happening at and below the surface in this text.
There’s also the whole notion of the Holy Spirit, the wind blowing where it chooses. Living in Nebraska now for more than three years has given me a greater appreciation for what this means. The wind can change direction at a moment’s notice, and it’s not uncommon for the wind to blow in every direction in any afternoon. Yesterday it was nearly 70 degrees, because the wind was strong out of the south. Later this week it could likely snow again, with a strong wind from the north. Perhaps this is an illustration of God at work. When we try to understand and fit God into a box, we’re bound to come up short. And maybe this is what Jesus is trying to help Nicodemus wrap his head around. Part of being in relationship with God, is admitting there is a mystery here. Be open to it. Wander and wonder. Come and see, follow, and taste that the Lord is good. And point to God’s presence.
The story continues with Nicodemus’ confusion or frustration. “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:9-15, NRSV).
Now we move into the promises of this text. God is showing up here, not only just to show up, but showing up to bring life and salvation. God is showing up offering the hope and promise of abundant, resurrection, and eternal life. Why? Because this is what God has been about since the very beginning of creation. To restore and reconcile. To bring life out of death. To bring hope, peace, and light, out of brokenness, fear, and darkness. As Jesus concludes, “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, NRSV).
God has come out of love, and with love for the world God so dearly loves. God offers that hope, abundant, and eternal life. God does this not out condemnation or division. God does this not out of anxiety and fear and exclusion. No. God does this with arms outstretched wide on a cross, for one and for all. So that “the world might be saved through him.” Not condemned, but saved.
That’s pure grace and gift. That’s good news. And that is the heart of not only our Lenten story and our own story as Christians and Children of God, it’s why in fact we are disciples and stewards. To cling hold of this good news, and to share it widely because we can’t help but be freed in joy and gratitude through it and for it. And we can’t help but be moved that we want to share this Good News with all the world through all that we do and say as the stewards and disciples God has called, created, and sent us all to be.
As is the case often in the Narrative, there’s so much packed into these passages. This week is no exception.
The selection from Mark 10 begins with a passion prediction. We read, “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again’” (Mark 10:32-34, NRSV). This passion prediction points to what it is to come. It situates the story, and reminds the reader and disciple that the road ahead and life as a disciple and steward won’t be easy or without challenges.
The funny thing is, the disciples seem to forget this and focus more at times on the human temptations for power and privilege, rather than service and sacrifice. We all fall for this at times, just like James and John do in this story today. As we read, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared’” (Mark 10:35-40, NRSV).
When we turn inward on ourselves, it’s pretty easy to start looking and sounding like James and John. When we do this, we miss the points altogether about being a disciple and steward. We start thinking it’s just about us, and not God. We start thinking it’s about just us, as individuals, and not each other as Children of God, all beloved of God.
Naturally, as the story continues James and John didn’t make many friends among their fellow disciples with this query. We read as the story continues that, “When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:41-45, NRSV).
The Son of Man “came not to be served but to serve.” Unlike the ways of the world, leadership and love are all about service toward each other. Hence to be “first among you must be slave of all,” an important reminder for both discipleship and stewardship. This is what Christ has been teaching about, offering example after example of, and proclaiming throughout his earthly ministry. It becomes all the more clear as we move to and through the cross during the Lenten season.
The narrative this week wraps up with a story of healing and faith, when Jesus and the disciples arrive in Jericho. We read that, “They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way'” (Mark 10:46-52, NRSV).
Bartimaeus is healed, because he has faith. Jesus heals him, because he is gifted and called for this work. This is precisely to whom and for whom God comes into the world- offering life, healing, reconciliation, restoration, and salvation. Bartimaeus isn’t going to be denied, because he knows who this God in Christ is. And how does he respond? Joyfully and gratefully we assume, as he then would follow Jesus on his way. Perhaps becoming yet another follower of the way of disciple of Jesus, who can point to in very plain terms of what God has done for him- changing his life, healing his sight, and restoring him to a place of wholeness in society and the world.
These are good stories this week- rich stories of God’s work, for us. Stories we can see ourselves in, and see ourselves specifically as recipients of God’s saving work for us. As stewards and disciples we share this Good News. We lean into it. And we give thanks and praise for it, moved to join in God’s on-going work in the world. In whatever way these stories grab your imagination this week, may God’s love and promise be reminded to you and for you, and may they be made real and proclaimed through you too.