Preaching on Stewardship- The Third Sunday in Lent

This week’s stewardship and discipleship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent are as follows:

Sunday March 7, 2021: Revised Common Lectionary- The Third Sunday in Lent (Year B)
First Lesson: Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Gospel of John 2:13-22

The third Sunday in Lent brings us familiar stories about God’s work and promises- but also reminders of how God is with us, for us, and loving us, even when we come up short. In both the revised common and narrative lectionaries, we find stories about relationship between God and God’s beloved, and between neighbor and neighbor. With this in mind, there’s plenty to think about from a stewardship and discipleship standpoint.

The first lesson comes from Exodus 20 including what we know today as a description of the ten commandments, but also a reminder of who God is and the lengths to which God will go for God’s own. The story begins, “Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:1-11, NRSV).

We are reminded in this about who God is. “I am the Lord your God…” We are reminded of what God has done, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And we are also reminded what God will do for God’s beloved whom God calls and hopes to be in relationship with, as we read, “showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The commandments here are an articulation of the best of the law. The law given as a gift so that life might go well. So that we might strive to repent and continue to be in right relationship with God and with neighbor.

From here, the commandments are articulated in such a way that the concept of neighbor is mentioned at least three times. We read, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:12-17, NRSV). In terms of stewardship and discipleship, this could be a good week to remember the gift that are these commandments, but more so the “why” behind them. Because of God’s deep love and desire that life might go well and be abundant for God’s own- together with God and with neighbor.

Psalm 19 is full of rich imagery and themes that pick up where the first lesson leaves off. The psalm begins with the idea that all creation praises God and proclaims what God has done, a central tenant of stewardship- telling the story of God’s on-going work in the world. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, NRSV). Later in the psalm, we are reminded of the law and its purposes and the proper response to it and to all of God’s work and promises for God’s people. The psalmist proclaims, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9, NRSV). Great reminders of what God does and the impact of God’s Word and promises on God’s people. To conclude, we hear the verse that is often said at the beginning of any sermon, homily, or meditation. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NRSV). May it be so for all of us who have the privilege to be a part of and do some of God’s work as God’s people.

The second lesson for this week comes from 1 Corinthians 1, with familiar words from Paul about Christ crucified and what that means for God’s people. Let’s take it as a whole, as we read, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NRSV).

Powerful depiction of the saving work of the cross as depicted in a stained glass window at Salem Lutheran in Stromsburg, Nebraska.

The cross as a foolishness is an important reminder during this Lenten season. The world is about to turn. The way things are and seem to be, are about to be reversed. For the symbol of death will become one of life and an example of God’s ultimate saving work for God’s beloved. Because of this work, “we proclaim Christ crucified.” That’s central to our theology. For through such an act, we have hope and trust that the promises of God are real and true. Through such foolishness, life is given, restored, and reconciled. Now this is not to say any of this is easy. The ultimate reminder of this is the gospel lesson from John 2. All of this is hard work, with life and death change and transformation. The world will not be the same. People will be mad or worse. And that’s part of what comes with such transformative change as this.

Our gospel story for this week from John 2 begins, “The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!‘ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:13-22, NRSV).

This gospel passage is packed. On the one hand there is a short of quasi passion prediction in this towards its end. But the drama of this story is the directness, fury, perhaps even violence to some degree, of what Jesus shows when he sees what is going on in the Temple. For this, he chases out the unjust business that is making a laughingstock of God’s house. After all, the Temple is not to be a marketplace. Admittedly such acts do not endear him to the powers that be, only hastening his political downfall from the establishment. But this story too, is also a reminder about making sure we’re all doing the right things for the right reason. Fundraising and money are not inherently bad. But if corrupted and not used to do God’s work of caring for the needy and proclaiming the Good News, such means are not proper or right. Is justice being done for those in need? Or are the powerful only increasing their position at the expense of others? It’s not an obvious story for thinking about abundance and scarcity, but there is potential here for thinking about this. For God’s House is called to be one of abundance and inclusion, not one of scarcity with resources for a few. Add this altogether, and it’s easy to see why Jesus would be so mad at how God’s house is being used.

There’s a lot in this week’s stories. Wherever you feel led, may God’s promises be made real to you and through you, and may God’s love hold you and be shared and proclaimed through you this week.

Sunday March 7, 2021: The Narrative Lectionary- The Third Sunday in Lent (Narrative Year 3, Week 26)
Narrative Theme: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son
Focus Passage: Luke 15:1-32
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 119:167-176

The Narrative continues this week journeying through the Gospel of Luke and we find ourselves at the three lost stories in Luke 15. We hear again the parables about the lost sheep and lost coin, and then the one about the lost son, or as you might also know it “the prodigal son” and the eldest son. These are stories about abundance and scarcity and the use of God’s entrusted resources, also known as stewardship. But they are also true Lenten stories about the joy that can come with repentance- turning again towards God and finding and being in relationship yet again with God and all of God’s people, our neighbors whom God calls us into relationship with.

The first parable about the lost sheep begins with grumbling from the Pharisees and scribes about Jesus, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2, NRSV). This is something different and unusual. But that’s who Jesus is. Welcome means welcome to all, not just a few. Jesus will do things differently. Including, going out and looking for one lost sheep, even if it’s the only one out of 100 sheep. And upon finding that one, Jesus says, ““Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6, NRSV). And he adds, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, NRSV).

Likewise, the second parable about the lost coin ends similarly, with rejoicing. For this joy in finding and restoring. Jesus says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost. ‘Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’” (Luke 15:9-10, NRSV). It may be just a coin that was lost, but it’s not so much about finding the coin perhaps. It’s the joy of knowing what might be possible through finding and using that resource. More lives might be fed. More of God’s work might be done. It’s not an end in and of itself, but the means through which more of God’s kingdom building work might be possible.

The final story in this set of three is the longest and most famous by far. The story about the prodigal son and his brother. You know the story well so there is no need to quote it in its entirety. But a couple lines that might be worth some more thought in this reading, particularly about stewardship and discipleship come to mind. The younger son gathers his share and departs to a distant country, where “he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need “(Luke 15:13-14, NRSV). Up to this point in his life, the younger son had likely never been in need. So he had never been aware of the complexity of life decisions, the challenges of having enough or not, and the complexity of scarcity and abundance.

Upon spending everything, he could have given up and reserved himself to a life of scarcity. But he doesn’t stay in this state. He discerns that he has vocations, gifts, and strengths and that through these he might able to go about the work of earning what he needs to live a life worth living, leaning into the abundant life that God provides and trusting in God’s provision through the provision of a forgiving father. The younger son decides, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands’” (Luke 15:18-19, NRSV). The younger son could have and should have known that his dad would receive him well. Though I doubt he could have fully comprehended just how much joy would have been felt through such a reunion. (It’s a joy that I am coming to particularly believe is especially unique for when reuniting with one’s children or parents after a time period of being a part. In this sense, perhaps it’s a joy that we are all looking forward to being with family, loved ones, and friends when it’s safe to do so with vaccinations out of this COVID pandemic.)

The story continues with the younger son who had “set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-24, NRSV). This celebration and response echoes the response of the previous lost stories. God celebrates when one repents. The younger son has returned and turned back to the Father. Celebration and joy ensues. Abundance is real as he and all are fed with the finest of foods and with much praise.

But not all are happy and sharing in the joy. Some see this as wasteful, believing that resources are truly scarce and not trusting in the joy and abundance in God. That is perhaps the biggest knock on the older son (15:27-28 in particular). Perhaps too there is a level of resentment and selfishness. When we forget the deeper why and promises that hold us, we begin to think more about ourselves instead of God and all of God’s people whom we are called into relationship with. We aren’t called to horde, but to share. We are called to live fully for all of our neighbor’s sakes, and to cling hold to the life that really is life- abundant and one of great purpose and joy.

The father comes and pleads with his oldest son to join him at the table, just as I imagine God does for all of God’s people. God’s promises are true, and so are the father’s in this story. The story concludes, “Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found”’ (Luke 15:31-32, NRSV). There is joy in finding. There is joy in repentance. There is joy in restored and reconciled relationships. And there is joy in remembering that we are not alone- that we are in relationship with God and called into relationship with one another. When we remember this, there is great joy indeed. And further, when we remember this we remember that what we do as stewards and disciples is never just about us, but it’s about all of God’s work and God’s people in the world.

In whatever direction or story or stories you feel called to follow this week, may God’s love and promises be with you. May you point to that love, promise, and presence through your teaching, preaching, and ministry. And may God’s grace and good news be proclaimed.

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