Preaching on Stewardship- Sunday August 16, 2020- The Eleventh 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 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:

Sunday August 16, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 20- Year A)
First Lesson: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67
Second Lesson: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Gospel of Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

This week’s stories remind us yet again of who God is, what God does and will do, and what God promises to do for God’s own beloved people. With that in mind, there’s quite a bit one might notice within these texts that may inform stewardship and discipleship. Let’s take our readings in order and see what we might hear, see, and notice.

In the first lesson, the prophet Isaiah writes, “Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, NRSV).

Isaiah begins it seems with a persistent theme from the prophets about doing what is right, working for justice (think Micah 6:8), and a reminder that God’s work of salvation and deliverance is at hand. This passage in Isaiah builds on these themes of God’s work we’re called into, gifted with, and entrusted with and connects it to the vastness of God’s people- To care for the ‘other,’ the ‘foreigner,’ and the ‘outcast,’ and know that they are God’s children too who will be joyful with God, and whose sacrifices and offerings will be accepted.

This is a reminder of who God is. God’s places will be a “house of prayer for all peoples.” This prayer will lead to the people being one- and it will lead to changed hearts, and action for the sake of all of God’s people in the world. This action of course, grounded in prayer and God’s promises, is the work of stewardship and discipleship.

The blessing of the graduates. Yesterday in worship at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, Nebraska we celebrated, blessed, and sent recent high school and college graduates. I am thinking about this today with these beginning words of the psalmist here.

This theme of God’s love being for all, this theme of the vastness of God’s people, is echoed with the psalmist, as they proclaim, “your saving power among all nations,” and “let the nations be glad and sing for joy.” The psalmist sings, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him” (Psalm 67:1-7, NRSV).

Psalm 67 begins with what sounds like it could be the words of the benediction in the liturgy of worship. “May God be gracious to us and bless us…” This is a beautiful reminder of who God is and what God provides, and it humbles us and reminds us to not take God for granted, and to seek out God in prayer and praise in joy and gratitude. God’s people, from all nations, respond to God’s saving power and saving work. They do this through their discipleship and stewardship of telling the story of God’s saving work, of giving thanks to God for that saving work, of caring for the harvest and yield of the earth entrusted to our care, and responding to it in the many and various ways we are called out into our lives as disciples and stewardship in our vocations.

The emphasis and meaning of all nations and the whole earth cannot be missed here. God isn’t just concerned about one people or one place. God isn’t just for one people in one context. Sometimes we forget this, especially when we begin to create our own communities and fall into the human trap of looking inward instead of outward, and intentionally or unintentionally creating distinctions between “us” and “them.” The prophet, psalmist, and even the gospel writer remind us and call us to address the sins that divide us, and to point to another way as God offers another way of inclusion, hospitality, and welcome.

The second lesson comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, NRSV).

Paul points to the diversity of God’s people and the promise of and love of God for all of God’s people. He also reminds us that we all are entrusted with “gifts and the calling” of God. These are irrevocable, and God provides. God does this out of God’s deep and abiding love and mercy. All of which makes our lives possible, but also as the gifts and callings are irrevocable, remind us that as God calls, provides, and entrusts, God does so with intentionality, responsibility, and consequence. God is hoping and expecting that we will serve, care for each other, and grow. This isn’t required for salvation, but it is the right response with joy and gratitude for who God is and all that God does and will do for God’s people.

The gospel lesson this week is sort of one in two parts. The first part is an optional inclusion, and the second one is one of the harder readings in the gospel because it doesn’t necessarily paint Jesus in a good light. It names the realities and pervasiveness of other-ing, -isms in our society (such as racism), and points to God offering another way (though not right away as God in Christ is seemingly slow to act and notice and value the Canaanite woman).

The gospel reading begins, “Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matthew 15:10-20, NRSV).

If including this first portion, in terms of discipleship and stewardship it’s a good reminder for all of us to pay attention to what we say- whether verbally, over social media, in other forms of communication, and even through our very actions or inaction. What we do matters, for we either model and live the life of discipleship and stewardship, or we don’t. I know for one, I have lots of confessing to do about this and about using my mouth in ways that aren’t always affirming and generative. Thank goodness for grace and forgiveness. Perhaps this is an important reminder for all of God’s disciples right now- amid this time where no one is operating at 100% amid fear and anxiety during a pandemic, during a time of heightened polarization, and even the anxiety and toxicity of an election year cycle in the United States. These are important words to hear from Jesus today.

This teaching through parable is followed up by an example. Jesus’ words and actions at first don’t seem to compute well with the overall message that Jesus has been proclaiming through word and deed throughout his ministry. And it takes a Canaanite woman’s persistent faith to force Jesus’ hand and to be more of a reminder of God’s all encompassing love and grace for the disciples to see.

We read, “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV).

The Canaanite women is persistent. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” She acknowledges who Jesus is, perhaps at even a greater level than the disciples realize. As a mother, she will not be turned away. The life and well-being of her child is at stake, and there is nothing between heaven and hell that will get in the way of a mother trying to care for her child. Jesus ignores her and tries to avoid her. She again says, “Lord, help me.” It’s ironic that it takes this long for this to happen, given last week’s story in the gospel was all about Jesus’ promise of saving help, lifting Peter out with his hand from the water and the waves.

Jesus then uses terminology that might have been culturally common at the time, but is just about if not blatantly so, derogatory. He basically calls the woman a dog. The woman would have been right to call him out for his hypocrisy here, but instead, turns this around to a conversation about faith and seeking the provision of God. Jesus can’t ignore her anymore. Her faith was that strong, that she knew what God could and would do, and would not take “no” for an answer. She knew that her life had value, and that her child’s life mattered too. For this act of faith, and because God is God as the woman knew and believed, her daughter was healed instantly, just as in other stories we read that one’s “faith has made them well.”

There’s so much that could and should be unpacked in this. Perhaps a sermon on opening our eyes to each other would be timely. Perhaps a message offering another way forward that is counter to racism, but acknowledges the beauty of our differences but also the importance and hard work of our shared identity as Children of God and how, though all lives matter, sometimes we as God’s people need to lift up particular communities who are marginalized and oppressed because of human sin, structural sin, brokenness, power, and privilege. Perhaps a message about stewardship and discipleship, about how though we like to think God’s work is limited to a select few, the Canaanite woman reminds even Jesus, that is not so. For God’s love is been poured out for one and for all. Not for a few, but for many. This echoes the abundance of God we know through stories like we heard a couple weeks ago about the feeding of the multitude.

We could also think about God’s healing acts that show up here, finally. The woman’s child was healed. We all know some one needing healing, and sometimes even all of us, need some kind of healing. During this time of COVID, of isolation, of changed plans or broken dreams because of lost employment… the list is potentially long. No matter the need, we remember in this story, that God is there with us. That, though it may seem like we aren’t seen sometimes, God sees us, knows us, loves us, and has mercy on us. The Canaanite woman knew this, and so she didn’t relent.

Let us not relent in reaching out in prayer with God. Let us not shirk our responsibilities to our neighbors- to look, to see, to be present with, and respond to each other’s needs through love, grace, mercy, gratitude, and joy.

Sunday August 16, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme for the Day: “The Father”- The Lord’s Prayer (Week 1 of 4)
Focus Passage: Luke 11:2-4
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 103:1-5

Last week concluded the second of three mini-series for the summer, and this week begins the final four week stretch before another Narrative year begins. For these four weeks, it is recommended that we dwell in the same passage for a month all about the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11:2-4. It is also suggested that we accompany that weekly with Psalm 103:1-5. In so doing, it is hoped for that a different petition or theme from the prayer will be the focus for preaching and teaching each week. This week’s emphasis is on “The Father.”

In emphasizing this the narrative provides an opportunity to remind us of relationship. We are reminded in this prayer of God. Who God is- our Father. And whose we are as God’s children. We read from Jesus that, “He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial’” (Luke 11:2-4, NRSV).

When we pray, we turn toward God. We humble ourselves. We admit that God is God, and we are not. We ask God to turn our heart toward God. To open us up to our neighbors, and especially to all that God would have us do. To break us out of our lethargy and daily grind that creates blinders to our own little bubbles outside of our neighbors’ needs and the world all around us. And this happens through this prayer, because we remember that God isn’t just our Father. God is the Father of all. That has major implications then for our lives as stewards and disciples.

With the psalmist too, we remember these words this month: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—  who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5, NRSV).

Bless, forgive, heal, redeem, love, mercy, satisfy…. These are just some of the things that God does, for us, and for God’s own. These are things that the Father does and promises to do. For this, we can’t help but give our thanks and praise through joy and gratitude.

For whatever way these stories might move you this week, may God’s love and promises for you and for all of God’s people be made known to you, and made real through you. Know that always this is true- that God is with you; that God is for you; and that God loves you. Amen.

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