Preaching Thoughts- October 10, 2021

Enjoy these reflections about this week’s appointed stories from the revised common and narrative lectionaries, with potential insights about discipleship, mission, innovation, and stewardship.

Sunday October 10, 2021: Revised Common Lectionary- The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) Lectionary 28
First Lesson: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Second Lesson: Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel of Mark 10:17-31

On first glance, this week’s stories in the lectionary might not inspire that much excitement for many a preacher. But if you take a step back, perhaps you might see some other ideas. For me, I am probably most pulled towards the Gospel lesson particularly given its obvious connections for preaching on stewardship. But let’s take the readings in order and see what we might notice today.

We begin with our first lesson which comes from the prophet Amos. We read, “Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!” (Amos 5:6-7, NRSV). That certainly sounds like the words of a prophet, doesn’t it? The call to “seek the Lord and live,” is one to choose life that God in Christ offers abundantly. It’s also one to justice, reconciliation, and the hard work of discipleship in all our lives. It’s no surprise then that the prophet sees this as imperative but also sees this and sees much in the way to not inspire hope for change among the people.

Amos continues, “They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sinsyou who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:10-15, NRSV).

Amos is calling me out, you out, and likely everyone out. We all come up short. We all sin. We all fail to care for our neighbor as we ought. And we likely all, whether we know it or not, profit off others. Amos saw this as the wealthy and those in power profited and ate at the expense of the poor. He isn’t warning about that there is a lack or limit of resources. Rather, he is warning and calling out the scarcity that exists because some who have much hoard it, and don’t share. By hoarding, God’s abundance is prevented of being shared as it ought to be. That is not only wrong, that is an evil move that gets in the way of God’s work being done. So it’s understandable that again he calls the people to turn. He calls them to see God, to “seek good and not evil, that you may live” and so that God “will be with you.” What we do matters, as Amos argues, especially for those in need.

This week’s appointed psalm comes from Psalm 90:12-17. Within this, the psalmist sings, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:12-17, NRSV).

On a recent trip to Washington state, I had the joy of walking in God’s good creation with my family. I saw beauty like this. Beauty that I imagine surely seemed to be in the mind of the psalmist in thinking about how God provides and how God’s steadfast love endures forever.

It is God who satisfies and provides, and it is God for whom and to whom we give thanks and praise. That’s a stewardship truth about our response to God for all that God has done, will do, and promises to do for us. Where we need to be careful with a text like this, are the words in the last couple of sentences. If left by themselves without context, they could seem to support a prosperity gospel type theology. But within larger narrative, we remember that it is God who is at work in us, with us, and for us. We have a part in that. But it’s not a part to just go about getting rich and living well for ourselves. No. It’s about choosing the hard but meaningful life of discipleship to be in relationship with God and neighbor, and to show and embody God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves through all that we say and do. Most visibly as the psalmist and prophet might argue this week- that shows up in how we literally see our neighbors, but are at work with and for them, so that life might go well for each.

This week’s second lesson comes from Hebrews 4:12-16. We read there, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:12-16, NRSV).

God’s Word is living and active. That should be reason enough for us as disciples to be diligent in our reading of the scriptures and digging into God’s Word. It also points to the truth that God is active and at work in the world, in us, for us, through us, and with us. That also means that prayer and confession matter. All of these elements are part of our life and relationship with God, and with our neighbors as God in Christ’s Body in the world- called to be in relationship with one another and reconciled to God and each other. Where the writer of Hebrews seems to be leading is to the point of calling us into our lives as disciples and stewards with boldness. To have courage and faith and trust that God is with us and at work, for us. And that as God is with us and wants to be in relationship with us, that is where and why we receive mercy and grace. Because God so wants to be in relationship with us, God in Christ is born, lives, dies, and is resurrected for you and for me. That’s certainly good news. The question then as disciples and stewards, is what do we do with and because of that Good News and free gift given for us? (That’s a rhetorical question obviously, and hopefully by now the starting answer is clear. But hopefully too this week’s gospel lesson might shed some further light.)

This week’s appointed gospel lesson comes from Mark 10:17-31. Let’s take it in three sections. Our story begins about Jesus and his disciples. We read, “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:17-22, NRSV).

The man in this story recognized Jesus’ love and identity. He valued his teaching and God’s work happening through and with him. It’s because of this, that he was vulnerable enough to ask the big life and death question which at its heart might be an existential question that everyone ponders from time to time. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Perhaps the trick to the question is knowing that it’s not our work to do. That’s God’s work. It’s pure gift and grace, which becomes more obvious as the gospel story unfolds. But that’s of little comfort to this man in this moment. Yes, he keeps the laws and commandments. Jesus knows this. But the thing that is hard for him, is to remove the last barrier to life and unencumbered relationship with God- all of his wealth and possessions. This is perhaps hard news for us as the wealthy people of the world in our society to hear. I don’t think it’s Jesus saying have nothing. But he is making it clear that what we have may well get in the way of our relationship with God and neighbor. And if that is the case- whatever it is that gets in the way (wealth, money, job, TV, baseball, video games, reading, etc.), is or maybe the barrier to a meaningful life with God in Christ.

Thankfully the story continues. We read, “Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible’” (Mark 10:17:23-27, NRSV).

Again, this may sound like a hard word. The disciples may well be summing up all of our reaction, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus does answer the question. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” God can save, does save, and will save. That is good news. It is a good word. It also is the only thing and way and act that can overcome all that might have power to get in the way of our relationship with God and neighbor- wealth, money, power, possessions, authority, dreams, games, baseball or football, etc. Jesus here is talking about all the things that might get in the way of life together. And if it were up to us, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Thankfully, it’s not up to us. And that is another truth of the Kingdom of God. And in response to that, is also a truth about stewardship and discipleship. Because it is God who saves, we get to respond with grace, joy, and gratitude. Because it is God who saves, we can’t help but give thanks and praise. Because it is God who saves, we can’t help but feel so moved that we want to join with God in some of God’s on-going work. The man in this story goes away crying. But if he had stayed to hear more from Jesus, perhaps he might have understood more about what Jesus was saying, teaching, and pointing to.

The final part of the story for this week continues, “Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first’” (Mark 10:28-31, NRSV).

There may be a temptation to take this passage and just focus on Jesus’ words that to a disciple who follows there will not be one “who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age,” as a justification for a prosperity gospel. The problem is that is not consistent with the larger context of what Jesus is saying. He is talking really about the great reversal of what it means to be a disciple, steward, and Child of God. He is talking about abundance living- where there is God’s abundance for one and all. Where no one has too much and hoards at the expense of another creating the temptation and lie of scarcity. More so, he is talking about the gospel promise of a great reversal. The story ends with such a reminder that, “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” The path and way of discipleship is one of service. It’s one of walking with one’s neighbors and meeting them where they are at. It’s one of the cross- where we open ourselves up and humble ourselves because that is what life giving love looks like. And it is that kind of life and love that is God’s saving work for us.

On first glance, again, these stories may not be the happiest or easiest to preach on. But with a slightly deeper dive, perhaps there is much to listen to and see here. At the very least there is lots to think about for preaching related to stewardship and discipleship too. And put in conversation with the kingdom of God as the gospel moves to, that points us to God’s mission and God’s on-going work for each of us. So whatever story or stories draw your attention may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you.

Sunday October 10, 2021: The Narrative Lectionary- The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Narrative Year 4: Week 5)
Narrative Theme: God Provides Manna
Focus Passage: Exodus 16:1-18
Gospel Verse: John 6:51

The narrative this week moves from Egypt to the wilderness. To wandering and complaining of God’s people who have already seemingly forgotten what God provides and promises. Yet God again hears God’s people and provides for them in their time of need out of deep love, concern, and desire to be in relationship with God’s beloved. It’s with all of this in mind that we find ourselves this week in Exodus 16 where God provides manna to God’s people.

The story begins. “The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.‘ Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but’ against the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God’” (Exodus 16:1-12, NRSV).

God provides. That’s the truth at the heart of this story. It’s the truth of the call to Moses and how God led God’s people out of slavery and towards the promised land. But along the way, during, and after that, of course God’s people are quick to forget. And so are we. We’re only two months into this departure from Egypt and the people are complaining. But what does God do? God does the gracious move of declaring God’s intentions to provide meat and manna. Their hunger will be relieved. Because God’s love and promises are true. God does this too, to reaffirm God’s identity as God put it, “then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”

There’s a stewardship and discipleship sermon in here, or two or three. God will provide is one theme. If that is one that is calling you and your context, fantastic! If not, or if you are looking for other ideas- perhaps in this too, is that not only God provides but God provides enough, and because God is enough, we are enough. The problems emerge when we start to miss the truth of this story that God provides enough meet and manna for everyone. No one takes more than they need. That becomes clearer as the story continues. Let’s keep going.

We continue reading, “In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed‘” (Exodus 16:13-18, NRSV).

“It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” Sometimes we might miss God’s activity and work for us that appears right in front of our very eyes. Moses had to articulate this truth, and he does. It’s a beautiful example of God showing up and providing. It’s also a beautiful example of God providing enough for all of God’s people. God provides for our needs as we pray in the Lord’s pray. We ask for our daily bread. It’s like the manna provided to the people in the wilderness. That’s a gift. It’s grace. It’s love.

The challenge with this though is what happens when we get in the way of receiving this gift, and particularly , what happens when we intentionally or not, prevent another from receiving the gift of provision. When we hoard bread. When we overuse water. When we hoard vaccines from other countries. When we create food deserts in cities. When we develop some areas but inadvertently push out our neighbors who live there from being able to afford their homes. The list is long and certainly could and should go on. And it may not seem like good news at all. But that’s part of this story too.

God provides enough. That is good news. Sin though can get in the way from time to time, and it does. Thankfully God reconciles, and provides the bread of life through Christ. But that also doesn’t solve the day to day challenges of sinful lies and human created scarcity as the result of hoarding God’s goodness and abundance from our neighbors. Part of the work we area all called to as disciples and stewards is to work for justice and peace. So to do that, means to put in the hard work of calling out the brokeness of systems, structures, institutions, etc., and to resolve to do better. But not just to call out the borkneess, to commit ourselves to work to find a different way. To bring about enough. To restore the downtrodden and broken hearted which is God’s work, but also which God calls and invites us to be a part of in here here and now.

We are reminded of this too through our gospel verse appointed from John 6. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51, NRSV).

The living bread is for everyone. We are called to share it. We are called to make space at the table for one and for all. There is never not space for one around God’s communion table, because that is what communion is. Communion with one and all, and community especially with God. When we partake in the sacrament, just as was necessary for the people of Israel, we have faith that God is active and at work. We have faith that God’s promises and Word are true. We have faith that God’s love is real. We have faith that what God gives, whether it be manna or life itself, it is good and it is for me and for you and for one and all. Because God’s love, presence and promise is real.

Whatever story or stories catch your imagination, whatever the Spirit might be up to in you, through, you, and for you, may God’s love and presence be with you, and may God’s love, presence, and promise be made known through you. -TS

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