Preaching on Stewardship- Sunday July 12, 2020- The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

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

Sunday July 12, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 15- Year A)
First Lesson: Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13
Second Lesson: Romans 8:1-11
Gospel of Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Joy. Called and sent. Gathered and going forth. Word and seed, scattered and sown. These are some of the themes we hear this week in these stories about God’s work, God’s story, and how we might be part of both, and share in both. God is active and up to something in the world. God’s Word is true and being shared. God’s story is on-going, and we’re all part of it. This is a truth that is central to our life as disciples and stewards, and clearly comes through this week’s stories. Let’s take them in order.

The first lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah. Where we read about God’s creation, work, and Word. Isaiah proclaims, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:10-13, NRSV).

God’s Word will “accomplish that which” God purposes. God’s work will happen. God is indeed active and up to something in the world through the Word. And through this activity, there will be change. There will be purpose. There will be responses of joy and states of peace, and even the mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees will clap their hands. If that’s not an image of the joyful response that we imagine when it comes to stewardship, I don’t know what is. All of this, all of these works, all of the activity of the Word provide an “everlasting sign that shall not be cut off,” they point to God’s promises, and abounding and steadfast love.

Abounding and steadfast love is theme in the psalms we heard last week, and though it doesn’t come up directly this week in Psalm 65, it is related. As God’s Word does what God purposes it, God shows care and love for the world and God provides abundantly. We hear this throughout, especially in verses 9-13. The psalmist remarks, “You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy” (Psalm 65:1-13, NRSV).

God is present visiting the earth. God provides through watering and enriching, through the provision of grain. God does this all abundantly. And as such God “softens” and “blesses.” This is God’s work. It’s what God does and who God is, for us- for you and for me, and for all of creation. How do we witness to God’s provision even now in such a strange and hard time as this? I look across the street, and I see the corn growing crazily. It’s been so hot and humid already this summer, the corn at least seems to love that. I can imagine the corn “shouting and singing together for joy,” like the psalmist ends. But in reality, it should be us, shouting and singing together for joy. That’s our joyful and grateful response to what God has done and what God will do. God provides.

The question then is, do we join in that provision and sharing of God’s abundance with all of creation? Do we prevent its spread somehow- intentionally or unintentionally? Or worse yet even, do we hoard what God provides for ourselves? These are questions I wonder as I think about the beauty and joy of this story. We are not to hoard the Word of God, but we are to share it gratefully and joyfully. Because that is what the Word does. How could we not want to share that joy and Good News with all we meet and with all the world? That’s a core driving question and part of life as disciples and stewards. If we don’t want to share, then we have arguably missed the boat, and perhaps even lie to ourselves (and to God) that we really are growing, serving, and following as disciples and stewards.

Paul digs into this theme in thinking about the dichotomy between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh in this analogy then would be what gets in the way of doing as God purposes- our sinful selves, our inward focuses, etc. The Spirit is that of God- of seeing the neighbor, of living in peace and relationship with all whom God calls us into relationship with, and of sharing the Good News that Paul concludes this portion from the beginning of Romans 8 with.

We hear from Paul that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:1-11, NRSV).

As is core to the faith, this is really life and death stuff. Paul is pointing to this here. To give into our sin, is death. But to remember that “you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you,” is not just life giving, it is life itself. We live because God lives. We live because God has sent the Spirit to provide life, abundant and eternal as God in Christ proclaims. We live most of all, because as Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” This is Good News. It’s the news that makes the rest of life possible. It’s the news that if we truly hear, we can’t help but join in God’s work of sharing the Word and proclaiming it through our own words and deeds throughout life. How could we not? And that joy and spirit of sharing, is the work of the Spirit and the work of the Word.

Our gospel lesson this week is all about seeds scattered and sown. It’s a story about the effect and work of the Word as we hear in our first three lessons. Though it comes with Jesus’ own spin, one of parable. Deep questions and meanings made known or all the more confusing perhaps, through Jesus’ story.

You don’t have to look far, out the window here in Nebraska right now, to see the corn growing green and high. Seeds have been sown and then some, and God is doing God’s thing.

Let’s set the stage and hear from Jesus this familiar parable. “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lakeSuch great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’” (Matthew 13:1-9, NRSV).

The Word is doing its thing. Or at least people are beginning to notice and hear things about this Jesus, so much so that they are coming to see and hear him for themselves. “Such great crowds gathered around him,” that Jesus decided to get on a boat to be able to preach and teach. Perhaps some of you have had this experience this year in unexpected ways? Through preaching and teaching and proclaiming and being with God’s people in new ways online- finding those joining your community of faith from the far corners of your neighborhoods, states, countries, and even perhaps around the globe? Perhaps some of you have had your own experience of this in new forms of worship- like drive in style, by preaching or teaching or leading worship from the back of a truck or from the stage of an outdoor amphitheater?

Whatever the case, you get the sense that Jesus will go to whatever extent is possible and needed to proclaim the Good News of God. We are called to do likewise. And God’s work doesn’t stop because we may not be physically gathering in ways we are accustomed. No. God’s work and God’s Word will abide and be shared in new and other ways. Our work is to further that, to not get in the way of it, but to make room and be about this work as disciples and stewards now.

Jesus does what he always does then. He tells them stories, parable after parable. It’s a fair question as to whether people understood what he was saying. But among the stories he told was the one about the sower. Some of the seed fell on not so helpful places and it didn’t grow fruit. But some, as Jesus says, “ fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” Jesus remarks, “Let anyone with ears Listen!” He’s calling us to listen. To be present with God. To discern with God and with one another. To join in and witness God’s activity and mission all around us. To make space for all to listen, see, wonder, and grow.

A little later Jesus unpacks the meaning of this story to the disciples who ask about his use of parables (13:10). He explains, “‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty’” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, NRSV).

I suspect we all at different points in our day and life embody different types of soil that Jesus is outlining here. But we are called, created, and beloved to be that good soil. To be bearers of God’s Word and love for one and all. To raise up new people of faith, as well as to help others discern that they are being called through their baptisms for vocations of service and ministry- formal or informal. It’s all of our work to raise up pastors, deacons, disciples, and stewards. It’s part of the life of the baptized, of being God’s church in the world, and the Body of Christ. It’s why baptisms, affirmation of baptisms (confirmations), and ordinations are such joyful days for the whole community. They are days where we proclaim together God’s promises, and God’s Word doing God’s thing most clearly. It’s also why funerals are so powerful, because in these moments we too are reminded of the life and death and realities, but also of the full hope and assurance of God’s work, God’s Word, and God’s promises made known through it.

May we all bear God’s fruit that will last, remembering it’s not us, but of God. We’re simply and importantly following God’s call- listening, being vulnerable, serving, and sharing God’s love with all of God’s children because that is what God purposes. When this happens, we can’t help but join with the prophet and burst into song and clapping. Thanks be to God.

Editor’s note: If you are looking for further preaching inspiration or if you might be looking for another preaching voice this week, you can make use of Nebraska Synod staff inspired reflections found here.

Sunday July 12, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: 2 Corinthians (Week 1 of 5)
Focus Passage: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11
Gospel Verse: John 14:25-27

The Narrative’s special focus on Job ended last week, and this week begins a five-week journey through 2 Corinthians. This week’s focus begins at the very beginning of the letter with 1:1-11. The Apostle Paul writes to the people of Corinth here, and begins in rather standard fashion for Paul. Let’s see what we notice about discipleship and stewardship in this passage.

The letter begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:1-2, NRSV). Paul is writing to Timothy, and extends grace and peace on behalf of God the Father and Christ.

Paul then turns to give thanks and praise to God, rightly pointing to God’s work and promises, and all that provides for us. Paul continues, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, NRSV).

Paul points to God as the one who consoles, and then connects that consolation with our work and our ability and call to console our neighbors whom God entrusts us and calls us into relationship with. All of this is possible because God’s consolation is abundant through Christ Jesus. This truth is a promise and brings hope, especially in the midst of trying times like this pandemic we are all living through now and having to do things a bit differently than we might have planned or envisioned. And further, supporting all those who are sick and carrying for the sick- through prayer, physical distancing, staying connected in other means, and by wearing a mask or face covering when out in public.

This week’s portion concludes by Paul explaining that, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the deadHe who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, NRSV).

Paul connects the troubles of life to a reminder that God is God, and it is God who provides life out of death. Not ourselves. It is God who makes healing and abundant life possible and offers it for one and for all. It is God who raises the dead and rescues those in need. This is God’s work. Not ours. But we give thanks for it. We pray for all those in need. And our prayer moves us to act, and to listen and discern, how God might be calling and inviting us to join God in God’s activity and work in the world.

Paul’s letter this week is paired with one of the common Gospel lessons around Pentecost from John 14. Jesus tells the disciples, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:25-27, NRSV).

In this short but important passage, Jesus describes about the gift of the Holy Spirit to come. God provides presence and peace. God is with God’s people. This presence and the Spirit’s movement makes our work as disciples and stewards possible, as we respond to God’s call and activity in our midst.

In whatever way these stories call you and the Spirit may move you- may God’s promises, peace, and presence be with you, and may you be filled and point to God’s activity and presence all around you.

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