Preaching on Stewardship- Sunday June 14, 2020- The Second Sunday after Pentecost

This week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for The Second Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday June 14, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Second Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 11- Year A)
First Lesson: Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Second Lesson: Romans 5:1-8
Gospel of Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

From the Great Commission last week, the gospel reading returns to the commissioning and sending of the disciples. What a fitting way to begin this long green season of the church, the season after Pentecost or common time. It’s a time of growth and discipleship. It’s a time of service and stewardship. It’s a time for learning and relationship building.

To say we need this now, is an understatement of epic proportions. If we follow the Spirit’s call, I think we are in the midst of major change in the church and the world. Change by its very nature won’t be easy, and there will be unease, challenge, conflict and… well, you know what true change does to people and communities. It’s good, but it is hard. Amid it all, we remember who calls us to this work, God. We remember who is with us in it, God. And who entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are, God again.

With this in mind, I am noticing some things in this week’s stories that might be worth some digging into further. In our first lesson from Exodus 19, I hear echoes of our lesson from Genesis 1:1-2a from last week, where we are reminded of God’s acts of creation and the act of creating humankind in God’s own image (the reminder that we are all created in the Imago Dei).

We read within our first lesson from the Lord explaining to Moses, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites’” (Exodus 19:4-6, NRSV). God reminds us that the whole earth is God’s, a reminder that is echoed later in the beginning of Psalm 24 (“The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it…”). But God cares especially for humankind which God created in God’s own image, but also for God’s people Israel, God’s “treasured possession” who will be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation,” if the covenantal relationship is maintained.

God not only is with God’s people, God cares about them deeply. This is Good news. God wants to be in relationship with God’s creation and God’s beloved humanity. Because of this, there is no length to which God won’t go for the sake of God’s own. We know this of course most deeply through the cross.

For this good news, we can’t help but join in the psalmist with songs and praise of thanksgiving, joy, and gratitude for all that God has done, promises to do, will do, and continues to do. With the psalmist we proclaim, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:1-5, NRSV).

I invite you, as hard as it might seem, to give thanks this week with the words of the psalmist. What might you give thanks and praise for? I for one, give thanks for you and all those who are serving in ministry right now, living in this hard time and showing up as God calls them to- to witness, to proclaim God’s good news of justice for the poor and the oppressed, to work for a better way as part of God’s reconciling and redeeming work in the world.

Our second lesson brings us to Romans 5. Full of good words for now, right from the start with a reminder that we are “justified by faith,” and that “God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” We read from the Apostle Paul, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:1-8, NRSV).

Perhaps these words speak well to this moment in time. A time where the suffering of generations is getting more attention, long overdue. A time where those calling attention to our systemic brokenness (racism, etc.), are enduring in spite of concerns of a very real global pandemic threat of the coronavirus. A time, where in spite of anxiety, uncertainty, and pain, I see signs of hope. People are calling for change. People are helping people. Congregations and church buildings in the Twin Cities have become hubs for their neighbors in need in new ways, just as churches all around the country and world are doing things in new ways (online and otherwise) because of the pandemic.

We are bearing God’s good news in this day and age through all of the resources and tools that God has entrusted us with to do so. May we not lose heart, but continue. Trusting that God is with us in the midst of the highs and lows of daily life always, and especially right now. And may we trust, that as God is with us in this, calling us to this time and place, that it is God’s work that we are doing, as God’s people, together.

The gospel lesson appointed for this week gives two options, either Matthew 9:35-10:8, or the longer Matthew 9:35-10:23. Given the richness of the combined text, I think I might lean toward including the whole passage this week as it speaks to the complexity and length to which the disciples are commissioned and sent, which are also words for us as we are all sent, and dispersed and distributed as God’s people. This is especially true right now during a pandemic. What might this story say to us in this time? And in our own discernment about how we are called now to be bearers of God’s love, promises, and prophetic voice in this new day?

Our gospel lesson begins, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest‘” (Matthew 9:35-38, NRSV).

Jesus had compassion for them, “because they were harassed and helpless.” A friend of mine called attention to this over the weekend for looking ahead at this coming week’s preaching texts. Jesus had compassion on those who “were harassed.” Aren’t we called to do likewise? If so, it’s not a stretch to connect this example and call with the work of peaceful protestors- serving as witnesses and calling for positive change. Jesus acknowledges with this that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” and that is why Jesus sends the disciples, and really why Jesus sends all disciples with the Holy Spirit. We’re all called and sent, because there is much to be done. The work of sharing the good news of God who has come near for me and for you. The work of peace and reconciliation. The work of restoration and justice. In terms of stewardship this is connected with the additional notion that Jesus alludes to in saying, “The harvest is plentiful.” The harvest is abundant, because it is of God. There’s an abundance. Much to be done, much to be shared. And we’re all called into this.

Matthew 10 begins where Matthew 9 left off. Jesus’ next step in responding to this recognition about the harvest and the laborers, is to summon, commission, and send the twelve disciples. We read, “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:1-8, NRSV).

In sending the disciples out, God entrusts them with a call and responsibility- giving them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” They are told to “go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” They are called to “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'” This is our call too. To do God’s work through our vocations, in our communities, and through all that we have and all that we are which God has entrusted us with. We are to do this work, together, not expecting anything in return. But rather as this is a faithful response to all that God has done for us, and to God’s call and invitation to us for abundant life and to be part of God’s work in the world as part of our life as a disciple and steward.

This last point, is explained in greater detail in the added sections of this story which can be included in the gospel reading this week. Jesus continues, “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:9-23, NRSV).

One of the beautiful stained glass windows, reminding of our call as disciples, and the promises of baptism which flow through us, and call us, guide us, and lead us as the people of God, doing some of God’s work in the world. As seen last fall at St. John’s United Lutheran Church in Alliance, Nebraska.

Within this last section, Jesus tempers expectations, talks about welcome (and unwelcome), and reminds that it is God’s work that is being done, and it is God’s promises and Word that is being spoken and proclaimed (not just each individual speaking, but rather God speaking through them). This is true for all disciples and stewards- not just pastors or deacons, but all baptized Christians. How do we speak? How do we proclaim? How do we show up on social media? If we are all God’s, then all we do is with God with us. That puts life in perspective (and perhaps provide a caution or check for how we show up in the world- in person and online).

There’s so much depth and good stuff in the stories this week. May God’s promises and work be proclaimed and done through you, and may you invite all of God’s people to hear God’s call to them, and to join in as the disciples and stewards they are each called and created to be as God’s beloved children.

Sunday June 14, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Job (Week 2 of 5)
Focus Passage: Job 3:1-10; 4:1-9; 7:11-21

Our second week in Job, means we get to see three different pieces as we skim through chapters 3-7. Within this though, we clearly pick up where we left off last week. What had been going so well for Job, is now long past the point where he has torn his clothes. You can’t help but feel for Job. What did he ever do to deserve this?

Of course, Job will have to hear from the people of his day with faulty and poor theological rationale like “God never gives you more than you can handle,” or “everything happens for a reason.” Don’t fall for the nonsense. Lament is real. Pain is real. Grief is real. Don’t try and wipe it away, but be present with those going through it. This is taking on a very real sense in these days given our society’s wrestling with the pandemic as well as systemic racism and white supremacy.

With this in mind, we read Job 3. “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: ‘Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none; may it not see the eyelids of the morning— because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes” (Job 3:1-10, NRSV).

Job at this point doesn’t see much, if any hope or good. In terms of stewardship and discipleship, this is a reminder that big things do happen in our world. They happen and can happy to anyone. There might not be a discernible reason for it (for as in Job’s case, it was just the result of Satan challenging God, again poor Job). To be with those going through these challenges is part of our call as disciples and stewards. To remember that everyone may be struggling in ways seen or unseen. What matters, is how do we ‘see’ each other, and be present with one another. Not to try and fix the experience, but to be in it with them, together.

We move ahead to chapter 4 next in our reading, which begins, “Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: ‘If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking? See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak handsYour words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope? ‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed” (Job 4:1-9, NRSV).

I am not sure that Eliphaz is the best example of pastoral care here. I suspect he is not held up as a regular leader in the field for those serving in hospital chaplaincy or doing their CPE (clinical pastoral education) experiences. Eliphaz offers hard questions here for Job, couched in some compliments about how Job has “instructed many,” but “not it has come to you, and you are impatient.” Hard truth perhaps to hear. Especially for those of us in ministry leadership. Some times it is even harder to “practice what we preach,” especially when the world around us seems to be going off the rails (and off the rails again and again).

In terms of stewardship, perhaps this is a call for grace. It might be hard for one to give right now- because they are emotionally and physically exhausted. They might be unemployed or underemployed after months of quarantine, furloughs, and the continued anxiety of a pandemic. They might be fearful because of on-going protests and demonstrations that have been co-opted by those who really don’t share the same goals- and so they riot, loot, and burn things. They might be angry, because someone (one among many really) died who should not have died, as the result of homicide at the hands of police brutality made possible through the evil sin of racism. All of this is possible. And all of this underscores the importance of grace right now. When might we be doing enough? What does enough look like? There is much work to be done, and it is easy to give into the woe and perhaps throw your hands in the air. Give yourself (and others) the chance to breathe and listen, but at the same time, don’t take your foot off the pedal. We are in the midst of a holy time of change. The Spirit is blowing, but as change comes, it is hard, and perhaps Job is the best reminder of how hard change can be.

The narrative focus for this week moves next ahead to Job 7. There we read, “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me? When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath” (Job 7:11-16, NRSV). Job needs space to lament and grieve. He doesn’t see purpose. He doesn’t see hope. He doesn’t see meaning. And this leads to his further questions of God.

Job wonders about God, “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be” (Job 7:17-21, NRSV).

What hard words to read from Job. And they seem in so much contrast to God’s words elsewhere. Like in Genesis 1, where God creates humankind in God’s image. Like in Exodus 19 where God’s people are God’s “treasured possession.” But they must be put in context of the beginning of Job. God has more or less implied that Job is God’s favorite, and all of this calamity that has befallen him is because well, Satan asked God for permission. This begs the question, why on earth would God do such a thing? Job’s questions here are righteous. They are not in vain. They are understandable, if not, understated even.

As the world spins around us, we must lament, grieve, and mourn. We lift up the injustice and not just call attention to it, we all must work for a better way. Otherwise, the lamenting, mourning, and grieving of Job and all of God’s children in our world today might be just in vain. And frankly, as one of God’s disciples and stewards, we’re called to witness and work so that that is not the case. Let us join in the hard work together. Knowing that God calls us to it, entrusts us with what we need for it, and is with us in it, every step of the way.

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