This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for Pentecost are as follows:
I refuse to use the word ‘unprecedented.’ (Oh great, I just used it… oh well.) We have heard this word enough lately. And though accurate, I am tried of it. So on this Pentecost, this day that we celebrate the birth of the church and the Holy Spirit on the loose on the world, maybe we can lean into this a bit? In thinking about stewardship and discipleship in particular, I wonder, could we just sit and calm ourselves to listen and watch for the Holy Spirit’s movement in, around, through, and for us?
The story needs no introduction. In Acts 2, we read that, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV).
As we read, “the Spirit give them the ability.” God entrusts us with all that we are and all that we have. It is God who works through us, and entrusts us with our strengths, gifts, passions, and vocations. When we remember this, life gets more deep. We remember that our days aren’t just about us, but they are a part of our life together as called Children of God for our particular offices, stations, vocations, and roles as God’s beloved people in the world.
The story in Acts is filled with wonder and amazement. Such is the response to God’s activity in one’s midst. So is the question, “What does this mean?” Yes, it’s a good old Lutheran question that is posed in this story, but it’s also a good one for discernment. What might this mean? What is happening? What is this? And what might God be up to here? These are all good questions, and perhaps extra timely questions given this strange time that we are all living in and through right now.
The sense of awe and wonder is echoed and furthered in Psalm 104. So is a sense and acknowledgment that God is the provider of “food in due season,” out of God’s abundance. There’s so much richness for stewardship and discipleship one can highlight in this passage, I’ll present it in whole with pieces that jump out at me in bold:
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, NRSV).
The second lesson from First Corinthians runs with the theme from Acts that it is the Spirit who provides and enlivens the gifts which God entrusts. With this in mind, there may not be any richer text when it comes to discipleship, stewardship, and vocation. Paul writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, NRSV).
Faith is the gift of the Spirit, and everything else in our faith life flows from there. From it, comes the gifts and strengths which God entrusts for the sake of our neighbors and the common good. From the Spirit’s work and activity, we are entrusted with all that we need to bear neighbor love, which God calls us to do so.
The Spirit provides as God entrusts. And God, with these varieties of gifts calls us together as one body- the Body of Christ. Paul makes this clear, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NRSV).
With God calling us together, we are the Body of Christ in the world- the church. Hence, the theme resonates for Pentecost, but perhaps even more so this year. As we are changing the way we gather as the church, and do God’s work in the world amid Pandemic, we are not changing our identity. God is still calling us together. God is still guiding us in our work and identities. But our understanding of what this looks like, and our awareness of what the Spirit might be up to is changing. Which underscores the importance of us being open to the questions. Be present to listen. And to engage in the holy work of discernment which God calls and invites us all into.
The Gospel reading for this week from John 20 repeats a theme that we have heard a great deal from John these past couple months. God is present with us. God provides peace. And the Holy Spirit is with us. We read about Jesus and the disciples, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:19-23, NRSV).
The gift and presence of the Holy Spirit makes our work possible. It opens us up to being church in new ways- especially online and digitally right now. It opens us up to experiment with online giving, and new ways of engagement and faith formation in digital formats. It also provides God’s presence of peace, grace, and forgiveness among this uncertain and anxious time. Not everything we find ourselves experimenting with will work, but knowing that God in the Spirit is with us, we know we are not alone. We know that our work and ministry of discipleship and stewardship is not in vain. It’s not just about us. God is active and up to something. And perhaps that is the most joyful and powerful reminder this year in this though time.
As we grieve and lament loss- of friends, family, livelihoods, dreams, plans, a sense of normal schedules, etc., we know that God is with us in the midst. There are new ways to be connected as the People of God. So we lean in, and listen. We follow God’s call and look for the signs of the Spirit’s activity. Come Holy Spirit. Fill us. Breathe your life on us. And guide us in all that we do, and in all that you would have us do today and in this time.
If looking for another perspective this week, please consider Bishop Brian Maas’ sermon prepared for the congregations of the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA for Pentecost. (The sermon can be found at the bottom of the Worship & Related Resource Links, both in video and manuscript form.)
The Narrative Lectionary comes to end of its Year 2 cycle this week with Pentecost. Next week it moves into a few topic series for the summer, before beginning Year 3 of the cycle in September. But interestingly enough, this week’s readings are echoes of two of the four readings in the revised common lectionary. So this week, please see above for ideas related to Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12.
Paired with the Narrative’s look at Pentecost, is Mark’s telling of the baptism of Jesus. When John the Baptist points to the Holy Spirit. We read, “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:4-8, NRSV).
The Spirit’s presence in the world moves over the waters. It entrusts and activates. It guides and leads. And it breathes and enlivens. All of this we need all of the time. But perhaps even more so, we need this truth now. May the Holy Spirit fill you and be with you. May the Good News of God be true. May the promises of God sustain you. And may they lead you fully into your life of discipleship and stewardship this day and every day.
Happy Pentecost Church!