This week’s stewardship and discipleship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday July 19, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 16- Year A)
First Lesson: Isaiah 44:6-8
Second Lesson: Romans 8:12-25
Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Another week in our summer journey and time after Pentecost, means more reminders of God’s promises and work for us, and since we’re traveling through Matthew, more wisdom and lessons through parables from Jesus. These texts are ripe with nuggets for thinking about both discipleship and stewardship. So as we always do, let’s take them in order and discern what God might be calling us to see and consider this week.
Our first lesson comes from the prophet, Isaiah, where we are reminded of the supremacy of God and God’s reminder to us to not fear for God is with us. We hear these words, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one” (Isaiah 44:6-8, NRSV).
God is God, and we are not. Thanks be to God for that. God is our redeemer, and is with us, present with us, active and up to something in the world that God so dearly loves. What’s interesting in this is the declaration, “You are my witnesses!” As disciples and stewards, we are witnesses of God’s activity, promises, and presence in the world. Perhaps this pairs well with the gospel articulations of parables from last week and this week, where Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears listen.” We listen to God in, around, through, for, above, and under us. And we also proclaim that truth and witness to it. That’s part of our response to all that God does for us, and it’s part of our work that God invites and calls us into.
This week’s appointed Psalm comes from Psalm 86. Within it there are reminders of our relationship with God, our gratitude for God, and of who God is, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” The psalmist proclaims, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl. Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:11-17, NRSV).
As disciples we follow. We listen, discern, and hope to learn and grow. As stewards, we give thanks to God for all that God has done and will do, especially for the promise of deliverance from death to life, and from God’s promise and gift of grace and mercy, being “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This is who God is, and because of this, it makes us possible to be who we are- God’s own children. Inheritors and heirs of the promise. Beloved, created in God’s own image.
This understanding of being Children of God and heirs of God’s promises and love, is unpacked by the Apostle Paul in this week’s second lesson from Romans 8. Paul reasons, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:12-25, NRSV).
Paul uses the language of “debtor.” It’s a theme that some might connect with some older translations of the Lord’s prayer. But put in proper stewardship and discipleship context, perhaps this is a reminder that God does for us that which we could never do ourselves, nor ever earn. But God does this out of love and a spirit of adoption. God does this, because in being led by the Spirit, we are children of God. And as children of God, “heirs of God, and heirs with Christ.” What a gift. The proper response is only one of joy and gratitude. That joy and gratitude overwhelms and provides hope and meaning. It sweeps us up, and leads us forth into lives of service. The hope that it enables, a hope in the truth and promises of God’s saving work for us, makes going through the challenges of life possible and gives meaning and grounding to our life as followers, disciples, and stewards.
Last week’s gospel lesson featured the famous parable of the sower. This week’s picks up on this theme too focusing on good seed sown, and weeds in the field. The story begins as Jesus, “put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn”’ (Matthew 13:24-30, NRSV).
Good seed has been planted, but as the wheat grows so too do the weeds that have invaded. I think all gardeners and farmers can relate to the real frustration of this story. Though I don’t know many gardeners who would willingly let the weeds grow. Maybe that might be a better approach to try, instead of getting down on my knees every so often and puling weeds? (I kind of doubt it, and suspect my grandpa would be laughing at this idea.) Besides, that’s not exactly the point of this story. Jesus will get to its meaning in a minute. Now on a side note, in terms of the context of this story, again we must acknowledge the context and example of slaves and slavery here. This power dynamic must be called out for the evil and brokenness that it is. In sharing a story such as this, Jesus is being contextual. He is not justifying the institution of slavery, just acknowledging the human relationship in such a way that disciples and listeners to the story might be able to understand and relate to.
The story picks up a few verses later. Jesus, “left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (Matthew 13:36-43, NRSV).
As they did after Jesus told the disciples about the parable of the sower, the disciples ask for Jesus’ explanation about this story too. Jesus obliges. The good seed is sown by the Son of Man, and those good seed are children of the kingdom, or probably put another way, children of God. The weeds are the children of the evil one. In some ways this parable is an apocalyptic or end time story. For good measure, there is even in the familiar imagery of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” On the surface this may not sound like good news. But Jesus shares this so wake the people up. To call forth the children of God to see, follow, grow, learn, and serve as disciples and stewards. Again he calls the disciples with the proclaim, “Let anyone with ears listen!”
This is our call as disciples and stewards. To listen. To discern. To follow. To serve. To share. And to proclaim God’s promises and God’s work for all the world. To join in it, in any way that God might be calling and equipping us through our baptisms and vocations. Let us be good soil, but also let us be seed that grows. Not seed that is overcome and choked by weeds, but seed that grows with a firm foundation that is God to care for each other. To be turned outward as the best plants are with arms outstretched for our neighbors as signs of God’s love. And let us rejoice with all those who grow as such and have been such signs for us in our own lives.
The narrative this week moves from 2 Corinthians 1 to chapter 2. Let’s take it in a couple chunks and wonder about what we might sense Paul is explaining here and if any of it might inform our discipleship or stewardship. Paul writes, “So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:1-4, NRSV).
Joy and abundant love. These are things of God. They are themes the psalmist sings about repeatedly, and they are also very present in the gospel. Paul here perhaps is displaying what living life as a disciple with both might mean- especially as we are in relationship with one another and concerned for one another. In being in relationship with one another, in being community, we know that there are times when we need to work through conflict, seek forgiveness, and reconcile. That seems to be a major point that Paul is drawing here in his second letter to the Corinthians.
Paul continues, “But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:5-10, NRSV).
Paul’s language about forgiveness echoes Jesus from the gospels. It’s a core part of our identity as people of the cross and followers. It’s a core part of discipleship and stewardship. Admitting when we are wrong, and changing, turning back toward God- reconciling with one another, to be bearers of God’s love for all. Paul knows this is hard, hence he is writing another letter about this. It’s certainly seems timely given the polarization of our world and opinions about this, that, and everything from the pandemic to race relations, to justice and the direction of our communities and country. Perhaps Paul’s word to the Corinthians is just as valid and needed now for all of us, as we are God’s people, the church, together.
This focus of Paul’s is accompanied this week by Matthew 18:21-22. We read there, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22, NRSV).
There is no limit to God’s love and forgiveness. Likewise, there should be no limit to ours. We are called to forgive. We are called to love. Yes, there will be times when this is harder to do than others. Yes, there will be times when it feels as if we are not receiving the love and forgiveness from another that we might hope and pray for. But even still, we’re called to be bearers of this- for this of God. This is what our life as disciples and stewards is about- to be bearers of God’s amazing love in the world. May we do so boldly, honestly, vulnerably, and humbly. And may God fill us, guide us, and be with us in this.
In whatever direction these stories might take you, in whatever way the Spirit might move around you, may God’s love and promises be real for you, and proclaimed through you this week.