It has taken me longer than usual to write and share some reflections on this week’s stories. For that I apologize if you expect this regular resource earlier in the week. But I, like many, have struggled to find the words in the face of two realities- the continued presence of a virus that is more contagious than we can understand that also affects certain more populations more than others, and the reality of the pervasiveness of our shared sins of systemic racism and white supremacy.
I don’t know how I would approach these dynamics this week if I were preaching. As an ELCA Lutheran, I might lean heavily on Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s sermon that she is providing for the whole church this week. But if that is not an option, I think I might consider our shared sense of call that we all have in Matthew 28, as well as our calling to care for our neighbors and steward our relationships which God entrusts. That is a theme that fits well as we celebrate the Three-in-One this week.
With all that said, this week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for The Holy Trinity (The First Sunday after Pentecost) are as follows:
I feel like I need to begin with the second lesson this week. Paul was writing to a conflicted people, and perhaps also to a people were afraid and struggling to know who mattered. In recent weeks we have heard from Paul as he has been reiterating how we all have gifts, and we all, as God’s beloved, matter. To the Corinthians and to us, he writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:11-13, NRSV). “And also with you, Paul.”
People of God, we need grace now. We need grace for all the faithful who continue to wrestle with the pandemic and when and whether it might be safe to regather in-person. We need grace for ourselves as leaders of the faith, who are beyond exhaustion because of nights without good sleep worried about our communities, our families, our world amid this virus, and the virus that is the widespread sins of systemic racism and white privilege.
And our world needs grace- the grace that comes through God breaking in. The grace that comes through relationship. The relationship of the Triune God that is the perfect relationship which we celebrate this week. And the relationships that we are all called into with God who is with us (as Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner writes about so poignantly this week), and in relationship with one another. If there was ever a week in the lectionary and the life of the world and our communities to preach on the stewardship of relationships, this would be it.
Our first lesson is all about creation. God does all of the hard initial creative work. But then God creates humankind, and by doing so, God gives a command and entrusts humanity with care of all of creation. This perhaps is the first act of stewardship in the Bible, and it comes in the very first chapter of the first book. We read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:26-28, NRSV).
We are all created in the Image of God. What a time to be reminded of this truth. Because before our eyes, the systems and injustice of our society has been laid bare in the past week and a half. Systemically and economically there is not equality. We have a long way to go, and we in the faith, are called to do this work- to lead it, to point out the injustice, and work to find a better way. This is God’s work, but God also calls and entrusts us to it. God has called humanity to care for the earth, to “have dominion” which doesn’t mean “dominate,” but responsibility and oversight for. God entrusts so much into our care, and as stewards and Children of God we are all entrusted with this responsibility.
The psalmist echoes this truth, pondering, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (Psalm 8:4-6, NRSV).
We have been entrusted with responsibility. To care for the earth. To care for the environment. To care for all inhabitants and residents and creatures there within. God does this, because God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us (as God is in relationship with God’s self). God is “mindful” of us. God is with us. Let us remember this. Let us seek God and listen and follow the Spirit’s movement. Let us remember that God doesn’t just love you and me, God loves and is mindful of all of God’s creation and all who are created in the Image of God.
Now, last but definitely not least is our Gospel lesson from the end of Matthew. It is a call. It is a commission, It is a reminder of God’s presence with us and promises for us. And it is an embodiment of God’s gospel message of love. We read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV).
Amid the muck and mire, amid the fear and anxiety of the coronavirus, amid the brokenenss and fury about the destructive and evil forces of racism and white supremacy, and amid the senselessness of looting and destruction by those using the cover of righteous protetesting for lawlessness and terror, Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” God is with us. This truth of Emmanuel that we hear in Advent is so sorely needed right now. This truth of God’s presence must be proclaimed from the mountaintops just as it was as the disciples went to the mountain which Jesus had directed them.
We are entrusted with this truth. We are entrusted with this message. We bear it as stewards and disciples, but we also know we aren’t alone with it. God is with us in it, for it, and through it. And this isn’t our work alone. This is God’s work- which we are all invited into as disciples and stewards, and given the responsibility to be part of it, and the gift to respond to its truth through our gratitude and joy for all that God has done.
So we pray. So we teach. So we baptize. So we learn. So we grow. So we serve. So we listen. So we act. For the sake of our neighbors. For the sake of all Children of God. To proclaim with one voice, that Black lives do matter. And until all Children of God are equal, we have work to do. Work that will not be easy. Work that has never been easy. But work we are called to do, and we must. May we do so, with humility. May we do so with courage. May we do so, most of all, knowing it is God who calls us to it, and is with us in it.
Sunday June 7, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Holy Trinity
Narrative Theme for the Day: Job (Week 1 of 5)
Focus Passage: Job 1:1-22
The second year cycle of the Narrative Lectionary concluded last week on Pentecost. For the summer then, the Narrative suggests three series, until the third year of the cycle begins in September. The first series which begins this week is a five-week journey through the book of Job. I’ll confess, it’s not my favorite, but perhaps that’s part of why it’s so important to read it right now.
Now seems to be a time for lament, as well as the prophets. For reading about hard things, and to remember that God is present even so. In terms of stewardship, I don’t think I have ever preached a stewardship sermon yet focused on a story from Job. But with you, let’s see where the story takes us and what insights we might glean.
The book of Job begins, “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did” (Job 1:1-5, NRSV).
Job has been entrusted with quite a lot. That’s a stewardship fact. Perhaps we might think about some or all that we ourselves have been entrusted with. Job returns an offering. We don’t do burnt-offerings for reconciliation like Job seems to do as was the custom then, but we do give our offering. We do return a portion of what God has entrusted to us, back to God. Perhaps this might be a week to think about this, especially during this time when the economy is tanking, family’s finances are suffering (or worse), and so too perhaps are those of your congregation and faith community. This is not to create a situation of guilt in your context, but to name the reality, and show solidarity and understanding that the time we are in now, is hard, anxious, and uncertain.
The story continues, “One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:6-12, NRSV).
What a strange thing to picture. These heavenly beings including the Lord and Satan gathered together, and the Lord starts bragging basically. You have to feel bad for Job. What did he do to deserve this? To be allowed to be tempted and mistreated by Satan? All he did was be blameless and do justice and walk humbly with God. All he did was be a faithful disciple and follower. Who, we assume, gave thanks for all that God had done for him, in “blessing the work of his hands, and his possessions.” But in this, perhaps too is a caution. What one has, what one has been entrusted with, does not define who we are. They may allow us comfort and to live more easily, but they do not define who we are as a Child of God. God does that, by creating us in God’s own image, and inviting us to grow and live in relationship with God.
The trouble begins to start for Job shortly after this. The story continues, “One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:13-19, NRSV).
Times might be bad for you right now. Your ministry might be hard. But maybe not quite as bad as this for Job. In one fell swoop, Job’s world turned upside down. You have to wonder if the Lord expected such immediate length of bad things that would befall his beloved Job. There is no real reason for this, other than Satan’s testing and jealousy. This is literally a “bad things happen to good people” moment. Our world can turn upside down too, through no fault of our own perhaps, and certainly through no bad theology of “God has a plan for everything” which sometimes we are told by those who might mean well when loved ones pass away unexpectedly or other tragic moment occur.
Who are we when things happen? Job might we wrestling with this question too? Job might have every right to lament to God. Yet Job, at this point does not blame God.
We read, “Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-22, NRSV).
Job’s response to all that has befallen him? To humble himself. To fall before God, and to remember that he is naked entering and exiting this world. He is dust and to dust he shall return. He is created in the Image of God, and he affirms his relationship with God.
In terms of stewardship, there is a deep reminder here. All that we have and all that we are is God’s. It has been entrusted into our care. It’s not ours. We do not own it. We manage it, but we do not own it. This changes the understanding of responsibility and relationship. And Job offers a reminder to all of us of this, and an invitation to take stock of our own lives, and know that we are God’s, and that God is with us. To not be complacent. To not just sit in our excess and abundance and horde it, but to share it and use it as we ought. To give thanks to God and to care for others as God would have us do. And to remember, that if bad things happen, it may not be a reflection on us. But it certainly is a call to turn toward God and to follow God’s call. To do God’s work. And to be in relationship with God and others. Maybe this truth fits well this week too.
In whatever direction the Spirit moves you this week, may the love that is known through the Triune God be with you. May that love lead you to lead faithfully this week and to speak prophetically and honestly about the work we have to do as we are all created in the Image of God. May you proclaim with vulnerability these truths, and invite God’s people into a deeper relationship with the Triune and with each other. Inviting us all to go about this important work that God has called us to- to work for peace, justice, love, and reconciliation for all God’s children.
Know that I hold you in prayer this week. And I hope that these reflections have been of some help in your own work and discernment this week as always. And remember, God is with you. God is for you. And God loves you. Amen.