This week’s stewardship and discipleship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday July 5, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 14- Year A)
First Lesson: Zechariah 9:9-12
Second Lesson: Romans 7:15-25a
Gospel of Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
How is it, that we are already entering July? Even amid a pandemic and major cultural trials and shifts, this year seems to be flying by faster and faster. (Or maybe it’s just me, and that’s normal being the father of a two-year old?) That said, the stories this week are rich ones. Let’s take them in order and see what we might hear or sense related to stewardship and discipleship.
The prophet proclaims, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem; and the battle-bow shall be cut off; and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double” (Zechariah 9:9-12, NRSV).
What a great first lesson this week, reminding us of all that God will do, and what God has done for God’s people. It’s a prophetic word. One that bears hope. God will set the prisoners free. God will restore. God will command peace. These are words we so need to hear, especially now amid global anxiety and uncertainty because of the on-going pandemic, as well as amid the unrest, anxiousness, fear, and anger as we work for reconciliation, justice, mercy, peace, and a better way in our society- working so that all might truly be free and equal, as we all are called and created to be in God’s world.
We have work to do here. It’s holy work. But even amid it, the prophet reminds us that God is with us, and of all that God will do. For this and so much more, what can we do, but give our thanks and praise? And that’s precisely where the prophet begins. It’s an ultimate lesson in stewardship. First and foremost, we “rejoice greatly.” Yes, there is work to be done, but because of who God is and the fact that God is with God’s people, it is work that we can do together. We’re called and created for it. And this work is holy- as it is the work of extending grace, and mercy, and bearing and sharing God’s “abounding steadfast love.”
That naturally brings us to our appointed psalm this week, a portion of Psalm 145. Echoing the prophet, the Psalmist reminds us too who God is and whose we are. The psalmist remarks, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:8-14, NRSV).
The reminders of who God is and whose we are are abundant in this text. Right from the get go, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all.” For all that God does, the psalmist says that we and all creation “shall give thanks.” But further, the psalmist lays out some of the work we are all entrusted with and called to do and grow into as disciples and stewards. Work like telling the story- to tell of God’s power, to make known to all God’s mighty deeds, and the splendor and mystery of God’s kingdom. And this work, we don’t do alone. The psalmist reminds us that as God is faithful, God “upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” This is good news. News that we can all say a hearty “Thanks be to God” to. And news that we can all stand to hear right now, as we reflect on what we’re called to, wonder what God might be up to all around us, and to move from prayer and discernment into following God’s call and invitation.
The second lesson continues our journey in these weeks after Pentecost in Year A through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Let’s take it in two chunks beginning with 7:15. Paul writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:15-20, NRSV).
Paul is calling out our sinful condition here. It’s good baptismal theology that points to our need for God’s grace. And humorously perhaps, Paul echoes what we all probably say from time to time, if we’re honest with ourselves. “I do not understand…” could be a premise for life right now. But Paul of course completes the thought, “I do not understand my own actions,” isn’t that the truth? There are plenty of times I wonder, what was I thinking? Why did I just do that? Paul is well aware of this human condition. Perhaps this passage might lead to a good opportunity to point to our humanity this week, and being vulnerable enough to offer a personal story of when life may not have gone as we might have intended.
Of course there is more to the story. Paul continues, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25, NRSV).
More good confessional theology here. Perhaps the liturgical words like, “We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves,” might come to mind in reading these words from Paul. But we know as we confess this truth, and the reality of sin, that God is with us. And that through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we have hope and the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation. This good news makes all the rest of life possible. Life in community with others. Life as God’s child in this world. Life with God, even. This Good News frees us, but also propels us to grow deeper as a Child of God- living out our callings and vocations as stewards and disciples. Responding to our neighbor’s needs, showing love and concern for them by wearing a mask when out in public right now, and knowing that as we do this, we are responding in joy, gratitude, and hope for the one who gave himself for us.
The promises and good news of God are perhaps most clear in this week’s story in our gospel story from Matthew 11. It doesn’t begin that way, but it certainly ends on a powerful note about what it looks like and might mean that God is with us, for us, and loves us. Our passage begins with Jesus asking a rhetorical question of sorts. Jesus asks, “‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’” (Matthew 11:16-19, NRSV).
You can’t blame Jesus here for pointing out our brokenness, sin, and division within the Body of Christ and as God’s children on earth. He’s right of course. He’s probably also frustrated that his messages are falling mostly flat and going unheard and unheeded. Maybe he was dealing with the complaints of people, not uncommon in our own churches when pastors, deacons or leaders do what they are called to do, but they are still rebuked for it? Like when Jesus says, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” God in Christ shows up with all, especially the marginalized and outcast in society. We are called to do likewise. It’s not easy. But there is some comfort, at least, in knowing that God is with us in it, and God has done this and will continued to do this- showing up with the ‘other,’ because that is precisely who God calls us to see.
Our appointed passage skips then to verse 25. Jesus is praying and giving thanks to God, and then says the words that have been heard at countless ordination services ever since. Words of comfort, consolation, and call. Words of being set apart, knowing that when one is set apart, they are accepting a formal call to Jesus’ words here in this story. We read, “At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’” (Matthew 11:25-30, NRSV).
This is who God is. God is there with us, calling us to be in relationship with God- saying “Come to me.” God in Christ is offering us arms to take the weight off our shoulders. Offering us space to grieve, think, breathe, be, and rest. Calling us to take God’s work upon us, to learn and grow and serve as disciples and stewards. And to embody the truth of who God is- “gentle and humble in heart.” Grounded in gratitude. For Jesus begins with thanks to God for all of this- for being entrusted with what the Father has entrusted Jesus with, part of God’s gracious will. There’s so much depth here in terms of stewardship and discipleship. What all does God call us to? What all does God entrust us with? (Hint- Everything…) But God does this, and as God this, we are minded that God is not absent in our lives, but present with us in the good, bad, and ugly. God offers us an easy yoke with a light burden.
This doesn’t get us off the hook. But it should give us the assurance that this is holy work that we are called to. We do not take it lightly, but we do take it gratefully. We acknowledge that as the cross is central, there will be ups and downs. Jesus was rejected more than once in his teaching and preaching, after all, and so will we. But we are called to this because God has seen fit that there are gifts God has entrusted for each and everyone of us to be part of God’s work in the world in some way. What might that look like today? And in what ways might we each hand over some of our burdens and anxieties amid a pandemic time of unrest and all the hard conversations and hard work to be done to counter racism and all of the -isms of the world?
God calls us to join with God. God doesn’t call us to be God. That’s a job that God in Christ does for us, thanks be to God, we aren’t God. But we are Children of God- called to grow as stewards and disciples. May we point to this call. May we embody it openly and with hope. And may we point to and proclaim God’s work and promises, and God’s in-breaking kingdom all around.
Our journey through Job ends this week, though we have only had a small taste of the full forty two chapters of this epic. In terms of the story, discipleship, and stewardship, the story has changed. God is no longer silent. God tells Job and reminds Job of who God is, of all that God has done, will do, and continues to do. And Job then faithfully responds- with confession, gratitude, and reconciliation.
In Job 41, we hear God still describing God’s own work to Job. God asks, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you? Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever? Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on leash for your girls? Will traders bargain over it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears? Lay hands on it; think of the battle; you will not do it again! (Job 41:1-8, NRSV)
Who in their right mind would take on Leviathan? That might as well be what God is saying here to Job. Yet by alluding to this, God is pointing to the order of things. God is explaining perhaps God’s omnipotence and presence, and illustrating the depth and extremes of all creation that God has and God will go to. The use of “Can you” questions, really makes the point clear. There’s much more in this chapter in which God describes in more detail God’s work and asks rhetorical question after rhetorical question, as a way to explain God’s work and promises.
We skip ahead then to chapter 42 which we read in its entirety. Let’s take it in three chunks. The first begins with Job’s answer, as we read, “Then Job answered the Lord: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6, NRSV).
Job understands. Job was always wise. But given his incomparable trials and tribulations, largely the result of God choosing to give into Satan (let’s not forget that part of the story), Job did lose some sense of faith and trust. But here, there is reconciliation. The relationship between God and job is repaired. Job confesses his sin and shortcoming. And God shows mercy and grace.
The story continues, “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42:7-9, NRSV).
Job is yet again favored in God’s sight. Job is an intercessor for his friends and those in relationship with him. And through their act of sacrifice and Job’s act of prayer, God relents and reconciles. This is really who God is. A God of healing, promise, reconciliation, and right relationship. That is the God of the Covenant whom Job again has had relationship restored with. And remembering this, then the story concludes in such a way which points to God’s abundance yet again, and how entrusted with it, we are entrusted with God’s work, promises, and callings.
The story concludes, “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days” (Job 42:10-17, NRSV).
That might as well be the Bible’s version of “and they lived happily ever after,” which is kind of a comical ending given the depth and breath of this book. But in the end, God’s abundance entrusted to Job is an over abundance. God is good. And Job remembers this blessing and promise, and lives out his life we assume with deep gratitude as a Child of God, an intercessor and disciple, and as a faithful steward of all that God has entrusted to him. In this sense, perhaps this is really a story for all of us too.
Wherever these stories lead you this week, may God’s promise and presence be with you and made real for you and through you. Remember, the promises of the gospel are particularly true this week, that God in Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.