Preaching on Stewardship- Sunday August 9, 2020- The Tenth 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 Tenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday August 9, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 19- Year A)
First Lesson: 1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Second Lesson: Romans 10:5-15
Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s stories from 1 Kings, Psalm 85, Romans 10, and Matthew 14 talk about God’s Word being spoken to God’s people and especially about how it proclaims and is part of God’s saving work, for God’s people. In terms of a theme this week, perhaps that is a starting place for thinking about stewardship and discipleship. In digging in beyond that one theme, I wonder in particular about the Psalm, Romans, and Matthew texts for thinking more about stewardship today. Let’s see what we sense.

The psalmist remarks, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps” (Psalm 85:8-13, NRSV).

All of this and so much more is God’s work. We remember with the psalmist the saving and good work of God. And with the psalmist too, we acknowledge that, “The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” I imagine this sentence in particular is all the more meaningful in agricultural communities and economies. It’s certainly true in the farming and agricultural context that I live in. Such growth and harvest requires good weather, good soil, favorable conditions, and stewarding of the land. Most of this is God’s work- but it’s our work too. It’s our work to care for what God entrusts. It’s our work to steward it well, and to share the increase and yield that is produced with all that are in need, and as part of God’s on-going work in the world today.

We’re also entrusted with God’s Word which is “near us” on our lips and in our heart. It’s the story of our faith that we share and proclaim together. The Apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Romans as we read this week. Paul writes that, “Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame’ (Romans 10:5-11, NRSV).

The Word that is Good News- about God’s saving and redeeming work; God’s reconciling and sustaining actions; God’s abundance and generosity; God’s love offered and given for all- is entrusted to us. We can’t help but want to share it, and that drives us into daily life and our life as stewards and disciples. This work matters, and we’re called, entrusted, equipped, empowered, and sent as part of it.

Digging into God’s Word- is not something limited to a certain few, or to those of a certain age. It’s something we’re all invited to, and entrusted with. Share it, and share it widely.

Paul runs with this theme, and uses some of his famous lines and rhetoric to make his point here. He continues, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.‘ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!‘” (Romans 10:12-15, NRSV).

Behind, in front, below, above, and in, our stewardship and discipleship is God’s work, God’s Word, and God’s promises. We have heard these in particular this week in our first three lessons, but they also show up clearly in this week’s gospel lesson as Jesus appears on the water and reaches out his hand with promise and help for Peter, and a call to all of the disciples on the boat to “do not be afraid.” Oh how we need to hear those words every day right now amid this pandemic and all of the agonizing decisions each community, family, congregation, business, and school must make daily about best practices, approaches, and ways to go about daily life now and in the week(s) and month(s) ahead.

Our gospel story for this week begins right after the feeding of the multitude. We read, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’” (Matthew 14:22-27, NRSV).

Jesus again tried to take a little time to go and be by himself and pray. This time it seems he got more of this time and wasn’t interrupted by the crowds. But in doing so, the disciples were out on a boat without him. Oh what an opportunity for God to show up, be present, act, and do God’s thing- reminding all of God’s people of the truth of God’s presence and promise, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Our story isn’t through yet though. At Jesus’ greeting and call to not be afraid, Peter responds. “Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:28-33, NRSV).

Jesus says one of his common phrases that we picked up on last week. He simply but boldly says to Peter’s response, “Come.” “Come.” With this word Jesus invites us all to receive God’s goodness, gift, presence, and promise. With this word, he invites Peter to walk on water, which he does until fear arose. But even with the fear, Jesus was there to “reach out his hand” and save him, just as God is with us and saves us. For this saving act, for the miracle of walking on the water, and for God’s Word as true as ever, the disciples present couldn’t help but conclude, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Oh what a story. What a moment. I imagine I would have been even more afraid than Peter, but what boldness to even be willing to step off the boat to begin with. That’s more faith than I would probably have. What about you? Regardless, this isn’t a story about an amount of faith. It’s a story about God’s Word and God’s activity with, for, through, around, and in us and for us. It’s yet another reminder of God being for, with, and loving us as we heard in the parables he has told, and witnessed in the feeding of the multitude just before this too.

Our stewardship and discipleship is a response to this. It points to all of this and to all that God does, will do, and makes possible. We may not do the extraordinary through actions like feeding thousands with just five loaves and two fish, or we may not walk on water, but God does show up and calls and uses us to meet our neighbors’ needs. God entrusts us with what we need to do this, so may we have the boldness, courage, and faith to do as God calls and invites, and to respond and serve fully as we can- with joy and gratitude for God, and out of love for our neighbors.

Sunday August 9, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: 2 Corinthians (Week 5 of 5)
Focus Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Gospel Verse: John 13:31-35

Our five week breeze through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians concludes this week with 2 Corinthians 8. In terms of stewardship and discipleship, this passage is rich with Paul’s use of language, but especially with his use and illustration of generosity. Let’s take this in at least two parts.

Paul writes, “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you” (2 Corinthians 8:1-6, NRSV).

There’s so much in these first six verses that are stewardship related. Paul acknowledges a “severe ordeal of affliction” but that didn’t prevent the people from caring for those in need. It did not restrict their generosity. I have seen this to be true first hand in Nebraska- last year in response to floods and blizzards, and this year, amid the on-going uncertainty, anxiety, an fear related to this pandemic. In spite of all of this, God’s people voluntarily give. They voluntarily respond to God’s gifts and goodness through their tithes, offerings, and service- grounded in joy and gratitude.

What a beautiful illustration here from Paul to describe what it means to be people in community and the church together. For it is through all of us, and our shared support, that we raise up new leaders, pastors, and deacons of our church. Through our offering and participation in the larger church through mission share, we support serving arms of ministry and respond to needs locally and globally- doing God’s work of changing lives. Paul knows all about this work and its impact. He knows it is a response to God’s work first for all of us through the cross and resurrection. And he is hearkening back to this here in sharing his own gratitude for the people of Corinth.

Paul continues and concludes, “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little‘” (2 Corinthians 8:7-15, NRSV).

Paul encourages the generosity of the people to continue. He reminds the people again of God, whose generosity makes our generosity possible. He tries to lessen the question of pressure to give or participate with a move towards looking at what we have been entrusted with as a way of seeing God’s abundance. God’s abundance is enough for us and all those in need whom God calls us into relationship with and to see and be with. Because God is enough, we are enough for this work, and we have what we need to do God’s work. As Paul fittingly concludes with the reminder that, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

The suggested gospel pairing this week comes from John 13, with words we often hear in the readings on Maundy Thursday. We read that, “When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you,’Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:31-35, NRSV).

Jesus gives us “a new commandment, that you love one another.” This love is what leads us and guides us in our lives and work as disciples and stewards. It is what grounds us, and calls us out into our daily lives. We embody God in Christ’s love for all of God’s beloved. We know this love, and we can’t help but share it. It’s a generous and abundant love that overcomes, fills, and moves all.

May God’s love be with you this week, may you sense it, proclaim it, and share it widely, generously, and abundantly.

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