Preaching on Stewardship- May 3, 2020- The Fourth Sunday of Easter

This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Easter are as follows:

Sunday May 3, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
First Lesson: Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 2:19-25
Gospel of John 10:1-10

As we continue this Easter season, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is often one called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” as we hear stories about God in Christ as our shepherd. Our stories this week include the favorite psalm of every funeral, Psalm 23. Just as the psalm is rich with its claim, “I shall not want,” all four readings have some great wisdom and potential for thinking about stewardship and discipleship. Let’s take them in order.

The first lesson is a good lesson about discipleship and stewardship, detailing what a life of both might look like. Because there is so much with stewardship implications in this, I have just bolded all of the possible stewardship wisdom to consider. We read that, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayersAwe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NRSV).

The devotion to teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer are central parts of discipleship. Awe is a joyful response of wonder that is a natural response to all that God has done and continues to do for God’s people. A part of both stewardship and discipleship is caring for those in need, taking care of one’s neighbor. Part of this might be done through giving what one has, to help another (selling possessions and goods, distributing the proceeds, etc.). And for all of this, one would naturally give thanks and praise to God with “glad and generous hearts.” All in all, this is a great passage for highlighting some of the key components of a life of stewardship and discipleship.

Psalm 23 needs no introduction. Two quick stewardship reminders, as you can find more thoughts on Psalm 23 in other posts on this blog. What does it mean to “not want,” or “not be in want?” As the psalm begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). God provides, and as the gospel this week makes clear, God offers, promises, and gives life- abundant life. Such a life is not devoid of basic human needs (that many lack for- such as enough quality food, clean water, safe shelter, etc.), but is a life where God is present offering meaningful life. Such an abundant life is one where blessings and joy overflows, just as the psalmist might describe by saying their cup overflows in verse 5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5, NRSV).

In the second lesson in 1 Peter 2, we are reminded of who our God is, and all that God has done for us. We read for example that, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25, NRSV). This connects to the larger theme of God as Shepherd, but also reminds us of the gospel good news.

How is this for a sign of abundant life? My daughter, wife, and mom, altogether, as Caroline and Allison blow out Allison’s birthday candles together. What a joy!

Speaking of the gospel, our lesson from John 10 speaks about God in Christ as the ‘shepherd of the sheep’, but also ends with the famous words about abundant life. Let’s read it in its entirety:

“’Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly'” (John 10:1-10, NRSV).

In thinking about stewardship this week, perhaps there is no better verse from our four readings than John 10:10. Jesus proclamation, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This is the answer behind all the ‘why’ questions. It’s also a central piece for our understanding of a theology of stewardship. God offers and provides abundant life- a life with God, with deep meaning and purpose, a life of presence, and a life of being turned outward towards each other in relationship with God and neighbor. It’s a life that keeps on giving- a life of blessing to others, a life of being with. That is what the shepherd is with the sheep. With them. Present with them always, just as God in Christ is with us. Inherently, this is very good news for us this week and something in the midst of pandemic that might preach even more strongly and poignantly this year.

Sunday May 3, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Church at Thessalonica 
Focus Passages: Acts 17:1-9 & 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Gospel Verse: Mark 13:9-11

The Narrative continues to move fast ahead, offering a story from Acts 17 as well as the beginning of 1 Thessalonians. In terms of stewardship, perhaps the second reading this week has more, but there is a piece from Acts 17 worth noting, especially as it relates to the larger why behind the story.

Acts 17 begins, “After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead…” (Acts 17:1-3, NRSV). Part of the work of stewardship and discipleship is telling the story of God in Christ, like as being described here.

The best bet for stewardship wisdom in the narrative lectionary this week probably comes in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3. Within those opening verses we read, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, NRSV).

We’re in this work together as disciples and stewards, and perhaps this passage where Paul reminds the people is the perfect opportunity for you to highlight how your community is part of the work of the whole church together? Work like proclaiming the good news near and far. Work like feeding the poor and caring for our neighbors in need. Work of being the church in the world, the Body of Christ. For as the Gospel of Mark which accompanies these readings this week reminds, “the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations” (Mark 13:10, NRSV).

No matter what story grabs your attention this week, may you hear and see God’s work and promises for you, and may you share them with your community, pointing to our God who loves us, is with us, and is for us, even in times as strange, uncertain, and challenging as these.

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