Preaching on Stewardship- Sunday June 21, 2020- The Third Sunday after Pentecost

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

Sunday June 21, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 12- Year A)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:7-10, [11-15], 16-18
Second Lesson: Romans 6:1b-11
Gospel of Matthew 10:24-39

One of the realities about stewardship and discipleship, is that we have to acknowledge that this work we are called to won’t always be easy. There’s a cross at the center of it. A sign of death. A sign of transformation- of life out of death. A sign of radical change made possible through God’s reconciling and redeeming work and love- for us and for all. This week’s stories hit this home, over and over again.

There’s no way to avoid this. It’s good news. But as such, it leads us out from a moments of complanceny and lethargy to action and change. From staying in our comfort zone to be instead out in the world at the margins, the places of need, which God calls and sends us out to. Amid this, as difficult as it might be, as confrontational as it might sometimes feel, we know that God is there in the midst with us, every step of the way. When we admit this, we remember again, it’s not just about us at all, but it’s God’s work being done- for the sake of all of God’s beloved.

The first lesson starts us off, from the prophet Jeremiah. Where within chapter 20 he laments and declares, “For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!‘ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:8-9, NRSV). This fire is God within and around. This fire is God’s work of justice and change. This fire is God’s call to be about the work of building up the kingdom, and the breaking-in of God’s kingdom in the world today. We have seen this these past few weeks, as people have said, “no more.” No more should anyone have to say, “I can’t breathe.”

At the same time, some around us think that this is a distraction or wrong, choosing to not see the needs of their neighbors as important or as valid as their own. This is something the prophet is warning us about. And as people of God- disciples and stewards- we can’t shirk from this responsibility of advocating for and working for justice for all who are oppressed and in need. This is hard work. But it’s work we are all called to in our baptisms, and work we must do, if we really do profess the cross and Christ crucified.

Jeremiah isn’t done. There’s good news here too. He professes,  “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (Jeremiah 20:11-13, NRSV). Just as the Lord is with Jeremiah in his hard challenging work to be God’s prophetic voice, the Lord is with you and me too. God’s promises are true that we proclaim, and for that, and for God’s presence and work with us, we can sing and praise the Lord with the prophet.

The psalmist echoes the prophet this week, beginning, It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children” (Psalm 69:7-8, NRSV). Doing God’s work as we’re all called to do can put us at odds with those closest to us. It can make things unomfortable, if not even confrontational. But this isn’t a surprise, because when God is doing God’s thing, that means that change is afoot. And though we all like to believe we like change, humans generally only like change if it’s on their own terms and it seemingly benefits them (not others).

Later in the psalm we read, “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help 14rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. 15Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.] 16Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me” (Psalm 69:13-16, NRSV). God’s love is abundant. It’s not scarce nor limited for a few, but is abundant and meant for all. May we all bear that love and not be swept away in it, but be caught up in the waves of it, sent forth to share it with all the world that is entrusted to our care by God as stewards and disciples.

These hard but good words from the prophet and psalmist are taken to the next level by the apostle this week. Paul begins with a couple rhetorical questions, “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NRSV). We are changed through baptism. In being washed, cleaned, sealed, and claimed, we are called and sent. We are God’s beloved child, once and for all. And that means something. Paul doesn’t disappoint.

Paul continues with words that we all should hold front and center. He writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5, NRSV). God makes this possible. This is God’s work, which we could never do nor earn. But because of this work of God, we are changed. Our old self has been crucified with Christ, and we are made free, no longer enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).

What does this mean? What does this freedom mean? Well as Luther writes in The Freedom of a Christian, “we are perfectly free, subject to none,” et simultaneously, “perfectly bound, subject to all.” That’s what freedom means as a Child of God, we’re freed up through God in Christ’s work for the sake of our neighbor whom God calls us into relationship with. Paul continues, “For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:7-11, NRSV).

Such good news. Through Christ’s work, we are “dead to sin and alive to God.” To what end? Well, as Jesus explains to this disciples this week, to be just that, a disciple. To be a follower of the way. To be someone who is commited to learning, growing, and serving. To be a steward of all that God entrusts and calls us and equips and empowers us to be responsbile for. This means, we are called to proclaim the good news that Paul illustrates, for one and for all.

This call might all sound nice, well, and good. But Jesus cautions this week, that it is not so easy. In fact, it’s quite hard. Everything will change when one receives the call. Everything should change if you are really being the disciple God calls you to be. And this change will create tension, conflict, or lead to even worse, broken relationships. But such is what happens when the change that God brings about comes to reality.

This past week I had the privilege of joining a conversation with a Twin Cities congregation (Lakeview Lutheran Church in Maplewood, MN with Pastor Rebecca Sullivan) as a sort of “Theology on Tap” experience online, as we talked about being neighbors and serving our neighbors today and in what ways God might be calling us to do this now. It was a fitting conversation given our focus in our readings this month all about discipleship and stewardship, and it was a joy to be in conversation with these faithful disciples.

Jesus begins, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master” (Matthew 10:24-25, NRSV). Jesus is making the point that we are all entrusted with vocations, and as God’s own, we are all heirs of the promise no matter status or profession or vocation.

That said, given the use of “slave” here, we must, as God’s beloved, wrestle too with how we in the church have benefited from power and privilege that separates those within the church- by perpetuating systems and institutions that inherently divide and profit one group of people over another. We must acknowledge the sins of slavery that are still real in our society because so much of it was created through the sin of such horrid injustice. As this week marks Juneteenth in the United States, acknowledging this and the rightful end of this horrible sinful and unjust system is right and proper. Unfortunately, as followers of the way, we also know there is much to be done as systemic and institutional racism is real and continues to benefit some (ie- straight white males, like me) at the expense of others in our society.

Jesus doesn’t make it easy for the disciples, and he doesn’t make it easy for us. But why should it be? Do we expect as Christians that our life should be easy? If so, I think we miss the point of the kind of transformation and change which Christ preached and taught about in his ministry. I think we miss the point of the reality of the cross. Thus, when Jesus says, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops,” we are convicted and compelled to do just this (Matthew 10:27, NRSV). To be God’s prophetic voice in the world today- wherever we are. To call the people to see God’s own who might be struggling, suffering, and oppressed. To not just pray, but that that prayer that is rightfully named, moves us to action and change. And in so doing, being bearers of God’s love and work in our context.

As the prophet and psalmist remind that amid the hard work of discipleship God is with us, Christ does this too. Reminding us, that God knows us better than we know ourselves and is with us in the hard work to which God calls, gathers, equips, and sends us out for. Jesus explains, “And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows,” (Matthew 10:30-31, NRSV). This is not Jesus saying that sparrows don’t matter, nor that we shouldn’t care for them. We are called to care for them. But as disciples, we have special responsibilities in God’s sight and in God’s work. God takes notice of us, and is and wants to be in relationship with us.

That’s easy enough to sit with, but in case you were a little comfortable with the implications of what Jesus is saying here, here’s the rest of the lesson. Jesus explains, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:32-39, NRSV).

Through God’s work, everything changes. The world as we know it is turned upside down. What we thought were our values are shown by Christ to not be so important anymore. Because when we take up with the cross with Christ, it’s not some easy joyful day like a commencement or graduation. No. Our life with God is just beginning. There will be missteps. There will be hardship. There will be times when people around us call us names or accuse of making them uncomfortable or of not doing as we ought. Sometimes they might be right. Other times, they’re likely missing the point that through God’s work and action, nothing will ever be the same.

Thus, we must work for God’s reconciliation and redemption to be real. We must work so that all may know of God’s love, and that all are recipients and heirs of it equally here and now in the world that God calls us to be part of. We must work, so that we name the sins and injustices of this world, and join in the hard and long work of the cross- of bringing change, and as God does- to allow God’s work to be real and be done- for us here, now, today, tomorrow, and always- the work of bringing life out of death.

It’s not an easy time to be in ministry. Know that I am grateful for you, and for the way you are struggling and wrestling with God’s work and God’s people entrusted to your care. Know that God is with you. God’s love is real. God’s Word and promises are true- for me, for you, and for all of God’s children. Amen.

Sunday June 21, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: Job (Week 3 of 5)
Focus Passage: Job 14:7-15; 19:23-27

This week brings us to the midpoint of our five week journey with Job. And you’ll sense some movement in these two snippets of Job’s process, discernment, lament, and wrestling with God.

In terms of stewardship, Job admits that there is hope for life and growth in God. Recognizing that such is real for trees and other plants, but then struggles with what that means for him and humanity. He wonders, “‘For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. O that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands” (Job 14:7-15, NRSV).

Job is recognizing God’s work and role here. That’s a fundamental first step in being a steward. To recognize who and what is God’s, and who, whose, and what, we are. In recognizing this there can be joy and gratitude. There can also be some wrestling, pain, grief, and lament. Job finds himself much more in the camp of the latter. And you can’t really blame him given where life has taken him. But even so, we might wonder with Job, in the midst of our own lives- when nothing seems to be going right, do we remember in those moments that God is still there with us? That God cries with us, and offers a shoulder for us to cry on. That God shows up (at least we hope so) in the arms, eyes, words, and service of our neighbors for us? Job seems to recognize this.

We are all called by God. When we answer that call as disciples and stewards, we’re changed. And when we answer that call, that change, will lead us into new realities and new relationships with one another. Through it, we hope and pray that we might be part of God’s work in the world in some way.

This week’s selected passages skip ahead next to Job 19, where we hear some words we often might hear at Easter or at least quoted in some of the more famous and familiar Easter hymn tunes. Job posits, “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock for ever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:23-27, NRSV).

Amid all of the harshness and pain of life, Job still holds that his redeemer lives. He knows this to be true. He may be holding this truth in tension with his life experience, but he holds it anyway. (A very Lutheran thing to do- to recognize tension, nuance, and both/and, if I do so say so myself.) By holding and professing this, he is proclaiming hope in the midst of a world that would say all hope should be lost. He is proclaiming the hope of God’s promise, that life comes out of death. That God is with God’s people, and we are not alone. If Job can find hope amid the challenges, then we can too.

May we cling to this hope and promise this week. May it lead us to face the challenges of this day faithfully, honestly, and vulnerably. May God fill us with all that we need, and be with us as we go about our days and work, living out our baptismal callings to be bearers of God’s love and promises in our world- that we know most deeply through the good news of God in Christ- who is for us, with us, and loves us. Always.

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