This week’s stewardship and discipleship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost are as follows:
Sunday October 4, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 27- Year A)
First Lesson: Isaiah 5:1-7
Second Lesson: Philippians 3:4b-14
Gospel of Matthew 21:33-46
Let’s take a look at this week’s stories and see what we might discern regarding stewardship and discipleship. We’ll take them in order beginning with the first lesson appointed for this week from Isaiah 5.
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watch-tower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Isaiah 5:1-7, NRSV).
That’s not exactly a hopeful first lesson. It illustrates a point about God’s potential disappointment and displeasure with God’s people. It begs the question what does God think and feel when he mess-up? Or when we fail to do the work of justice and righteousness? The work of caring for the oppressed, marginalized, outcast, and showing welcome to all beloved children of God. The work of stewarding all that God entrusts into our care for the sake of our neighbors and all of God’s creation? I fear this description above might describe us and every time we come up short as people God’s people and co-workers with God of God’s kingdom building work here and now.
When we come up short and fail to do as we ought to do, we have but one way to go. To turn back to God, and seek God’s forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. That is what the psalmist pleads for this week, as we read, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted“(Psalm 80:7-15, NRSV).
It’s a good reminder that though what we do and don’t do matters for our neighbor’s sake, it’s not our work that is being done. It’s God’s. And that is made perfectly clear by the Apostle Paul in the second lesson this week. Paul writes, “even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:4b-14, NRSV).
Perhaps this might be a good week to reflect on all that we are doing and might be doing right now. What might be working? Where might we be struggling? And why are we doing what we are doing? If the answer is to follow God’s call, and share the light and love of Christ with the world we’re called to be in relationship with, great. If not, then maybe these words from Paul provide a good opportunity to reflect, pivot, and reorient ourselves- finding permission to give up somethings that might not be working, or worse, might even be hindering our call and work together as disciples and stewards.
The gospel this week, like our first lesson, isn’t the most hopeful. Let’s read it in its entirety and than note what we see. Jesus teaches, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.‘ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet” (Matthew 21:33-46, NRSV).
If God is the landowner in this parable, as seems likely to be the case, it’s for to say that God would be disappointed and then some by the people’s reactions and work. These are not the results (like Isaiah makes clear) that God might have hoped for. It’s precisely for this reason that God sends the Son, without whom we would be totally lost. But even so, it’s clear in this story that God’s people aren’t producing, serving, caring, living, and leading as God might hope and desire. To put a hopeful spin on this- there is a clear call here for us to change, pivot, and renew ourselves and our relationship with God, and to be transformed by God to follow God’s call to love and serve our neighbors.
It becomes clearer when Jesus says, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” What we do may not matter for our own individual selves, but it does matter for our neighbors. If God has called us to steward and share the Good News through God’s Word, what does it say if we choose not to follow that call and not to share the Word as we can? If God has entrusted us with resources to feed the hungry and aid the lowly, yet we decide to just build bigger barns, buy new trucks, or have fun instead, are we really stewarding well what God has entrusted? This isn’t to say that we can’t live abundantly- but abundant life meaning living well, while also doing what you can for your neighbor. This is what it might mean “to produce the fruits of the kingdom.” If we’re not learning and growing as disciples and serving as stewards, what fruit are we producing, if any?
The answer isn’t good. It’s no wonder the chief priests and Pharisees weren’t happy when they figured out what Jesus was saying. But woe to us if we fail to see that this is about us too. It’s a story for us this day- both a warning and hopeful invitation for us to change and take hold of the life that really is life.
I know that I am not always perfect at this. But my hope is that I am getting better, even if slowly day by day. I think this pandemic time is calling us to adapt, to change, and to reflect. At least I think it provides us that space to do that, when we allow ourselves the time to think and reflect and not get so caught up in our ever growing to-do lists and stress about life and the uncertainty of what tomorrow (let alone next week and next month) might bring.
May we lean into God’s generous abundance and share it widely. May we never give into the human sins of scarcity and hoard what God provides and entrusts, but live as signs of God’s abundant love poured out and offered freely for all.
Sunday October 4, 2020: The Narrative Lectionary- The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Narrative Year 3, Week 4)
Narrative Theme: The Promise of Passover
Focus Passage: Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8
Gospel Verse: Luke 22:14-20
Four weeks into this year’s journey through the narrative brings us to the story of Exodus and the passing over of God so that God’s people might be freed from slavery in Egypt. We begin with a story that we often always hear in late Lent or during Holy Week. From Exodus 12, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:1-13, NRSV).
What a beautiful story of God’s promises and God’s care and concern for God’s people. This is but one example of the extent God will go for God’s own. Each year, the Jewish faithful are called to remember this act of God at Passover, where the lamb’s blood and unleavened bread symbolize God’s act of sacrifice and deliverance. So in response to this act, the faithful are called to not only remember this, but to live in remembrance of it and act accordingly through joy, gratitude, and humble obedience.
This is explained further in Exodus 13 where we read, “The Lord said to Moses: Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine. Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory. You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:1-8, NRSV).
Let’s hear that last sentence again because in terms of stewardship that sums up well, what our stewardship is. “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” Why do we do, what we do? Because of what God has done for me. Because out of joy and gratitude for God’s saving work, we respond in faith– through growing as disciples and remembering our past and the larger story of God’s work that we are a part of, and through serving as stewards- sharing the Good News of God through word and deed in any and all ways we can.
The narrative story from Exodus 12 and 13 are paired this week with Jesus’ remembrance and celebration of the Passover found in Luke 22. We read from the passion narrative in Luke, “When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:14-20, NRSV).
Again, why do we do, what we do? Because God calls us to, but also because of what God has done, continues to do, will do, and promises to do for us. Our stewardship is grateful and joyful response to all that God does for God’s beloved. We can’t help but give thanks and praise and follow as God calls us as disciples and stewards. And this act, though it can certainly be traced back to the beginning of creation has an even clearer connection to the salvific work of Passover and as we understand it as Christians, of Holy Week and Easter.
Wherever you see and sense God’s invitation to reflect this week, take some time to ponder how life is going and what you are seeing, learning, and sensing. Perhaps God might be calling you to pivot this week to more clearly and boldly serve and grow as a steward and disciple? Whatever you might hear and discern, may God’s abundant love be with you and made real for you, and may you proclaim it’s truth and God’s promises and love for all.