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.
Some how we already find ourselves in November. I am not sure how that has happened. But alas, here we are preparing for All Saints Sunday. The texts appointed in Year B are some of my absolute favorites. And for preaching on stewardship and/or discipleship, it is definitely a banner week. Let’s dig in and take them in order as we often do.
This week’s first lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah. We hear from the prophet, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:6-9, NRSV).
This proclamation from the prophet is most definitely good news to begin our reflections and readings on this All Saints festival. We hear stewardship themes from the beginning of abundance and provision that comes through God our provider, creator, and sustainer. “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…” This provision isn’t limited to a few people, but to all people. God provides, and God provides abundantly. More so, God will do what only God can do. God “will swallow up death for ever.” Hope. Life. Resurrection. Salvation. These are the works of God. In so doing, “God will wipe away the tears from all faces…”
If we ever lose heart or begin to wonder why we do what we do as stewards and disciples, you could do worse than to re-read these four verses. For we do the work of discipleship and stewardship because God calls us to it, but also, because we can’t help but be so overjoyed and grateful for what God has done, will do, and promises to do for us, that we join with the prophet who calls us to “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Indeed. Let us be glad and rejoice. For death is not the final word. For scarcity is not true in God’s eyes and kingdom. For God has not abandoned God’s own, but is with God’s own always. Out of deep and abundant and abiding love.
Our appointed psalm from Psalm 24 helps elaborate on this by pointing to who God is, and by extension, whose we are. The psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory” (Psalm 24, NRSV).
More times than not when I am invited to preach on stewardship I quote or allude to Psalm 24:1. “The earth is the Lord’s an all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” It’s a go to verse of one of my friends and main stewardship mentors, Chick Lane, and it’s easy to see why. For in these words we hear that all that the earth is, is God’s. That all who live in the earth, including you and me, are God’s. And by extension, all that we have and all that we are, are God’s too. What we have has been entrusted into our care. Hence, this is an ideal beginning place to understand what stewardship is in light of discipleship and our relationship with God.
From here, the psalmist continues to point to who God is and what our response might look like as stewards and disciples. “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in.” And “Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.” We can lift up our heads because God is present in the midst. We lift up our heads in hope, praise, and joy because God has done what only God can do- bring life out of death. We celebrate and respond with joy and gratitude, because what else can we do for all that God does, has done, and will do? Even amid the hard times such as these, where words like this might be heard without joy, but anger, frustration, and sadness- we acknowledge that even in the midst of the darkest valleys, like in Psalm 23 right before this psalm, God walks with us and death does not overcome. God will not abandon God’s own beloved. And this is good news too.
It’s good news that we hear as well in the famous words from the writer of Revelation. We read from Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.‘ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life‘” (Revelation 21:1-6, NRSV).
There’s a grand vision in this text, perhaps even more grand than that of the prophet Isaiah found in our first lesson. We hear the famous description of “a new heaven and a new earth,” a description of what it is that God may be bringing about. We hear too, words of comfort and relationships. Where “the home of God is among mortals,” and that God “will dwell with them as their God,” and they will be God’s people and God will be with them. God entrusts us with all that we have, so that we might live meaningful and abundant lives, but also because God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. God goes to and through the point of death to make sure that this happens. In so doing we can believe with the writer of Revelation, that God will indeed “wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…”
In wrapping our heads around this change and transformation we are struck too, by the promise and active work of God. The work of God’s mission and kingdom breaking-in even now. Through which we too can witness what the writer quotes God as saying from the one on the throne, “See, I am making all things new.” All things are made new in Christ- for you and for me. And God provides through this and all good things- life and life abundant. That is why with confidence we read, “It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give waters as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” God provides, and God provides abundantly. God goes to and through the point of death, to provide even abundant life out of God’s deep abiding and loving presence and desire for relationship with all of God’s beloved.
In thinking about these stories and All Saints Sunday this year, I inevitably am drawn to my mom’s parents. My grandpa would have turned 100 years old last week, and my grandma, his wife of 56+ years just passed away this past spring from dementia amid the on-going challenges of the Covid pandemic. For a moment, I might be sad, but after catching my breath, I see images like described in this. I am reminded of images of a heavenly party which my own Grandpa described in the days prior to his death. And I am reminded of the truth of the gospel you and I are entrusted with. Good News. And I give thanks. For the faith and witness, love, discipleship and generosity of my grandparents. For the faith, witness, love, discipleship, and generosity of so many saints (including my other grandpa). And of course for our God who is present in the midst, and who even weeped too when Lazarus died.
Our gospel this week reminds us about the power of grief. Even Jesus wept at the loss of a loved one. But through this story we hear again this week, we are reminded even more powerfully of the story of the resurrection and God’s saving work to come. We read from John 11, “When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!‘ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go‘” (John 11:32-44, NRSV).
If in your context preaching needs to dig into the realities of grief- and in whose context would that not be true of at this point in a global pandemic?- then this is the passage to really dig into. In terms of discipleship and mission, I think this story in particular speaks to the fact that Jesus is present with us, but also that God in Christ feels with us. Our emotions, our experiences, our hurts and heartbreaks are not foreign to God, but understood deeply and intimately with our Savior, Sustainer, Reconciler, and Creator. That’s a truth that really needs to be articulated in some way in the time we are living in. Not to mention, the fact that we live in a society which tries so hard to ignore or wipe away the experience of grief and death as quick as possible or even ignore it altogether. But we can’t. There’s a reason we have the experience of Holy Saturday and Easter Vigil between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We need to walk through this liminal space of time. This time of wrestling and waiting. A time of lament, grief, anxiety and uncertainty. God knows these emotions well, and Jesus models them even in this story today by reacting and experiencing the loss (and then resurrection) of Lazarus.
Within a stewardship lens this story is yet another example of what God has done, will do, and continues to do for us. It’s an example of the depth and breadth of God’s life-giving and life-freeing love. Think about that as we hear Jesus shout, “Lazarus, come out!” And, “Unbind him, and let him go.” What do you need to step out of so that you can more freely walk with Jesus? What do you need to be freed and unbound from, so that you can be let go to live fully in Christ?
This story about grief and good news is so fitting for All Saints. But I also wonder, if we take a stewardship look at it, if it might also call us to reflect on the saints who have gone before us in some way? The saints that pointed to stories like this and promises of God’s life-giving love, who even when times were hard, found reason to persevere. The saints that when resources seemed scarce, found reason to know, believe, and embody abundance. Lazarus’ sister Mary at first thinks that Jesus could have prevented this. She sounds like a normal human being, who in the midst of grief seems confronted by the scarcity of life. But she quickly will discover, that Jesus can change the story. That as Revelation tells us, God can and will “make all things new.” And of course, there is such a nice foreshadowing bridge between the death and resurrection Lazarus and the passion story of Jesus later in the Gospel of John.
All told, this week’s four stories in the revised common lectionary are fantastic. I’m excited to hear and see what sermons emerge for our current day through the work of the Spirit with you. No matter what life brings you this week, may God’s love and promises of life abundant hold you and sustain you, and may you share them richly with all those whom you encounter. May we each remember those who have gone before us, the saints and beloved who have claimed their baptismal promises, may we give thanks for them, and may we give thanks for our God who welcomes them, us, and all, to the abundant banquet feast.
Sunday November 7, 2021: The Narrative Lectionary- All Saints Sunday (Narrative Year 4: Week 9)
Narrative Theme: God’s Care for the Widow
Focus Passage: 1 Kings 17:1-16 [17-24]
Gospel Verse: Luke 4:24-26
NOTE: Some how I got mixed up in my readings for this week, and obviously this is not the assigned Narrative Lectionary text this week as in Year 4, the gospel verses come from John. This is actually based on the readings for All Saints in Year 3 of the Narrative Cycle. Apologies for the inconvenience. I’ll make sure to get this right for next week. The actual assigned readings are based on the story about God speaking to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-18, with the suggested pairing of John 12:27-28.
The narrative lectionary this week moves to 1 Kings 17 where we find a story about “God’s care for the widow.” It’s a neighbor love story with obvious stewardship and discipleship themes. And if you add the optional verses 17-24 to the main reading from 17:1-16, it may seem even more fitting for All Saints Sunday as well. Let’s take the story in parts.
We begin 1 Kings 17 hearing more about Elijah. We read, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ The word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:1-7, NRSV).
The story begins as a story about God’s provision. That’s a stewardship lesson obviously. But there is also a discipleship truth in this. It is God who provides. Not you, not me, but God. In this season in agricultural settings that is such an important lesson to remember with harvest. The crops will grow by good weather, rain, and sun. Just as, as disciples, our faith will grow only by God’s provision and gift- through the very Word of God.
Our story continues as we read, “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’ As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:8-16, NRSV).
The ravens provided. And now a widow provides. But more so, God provides and cares for the widow. God sees her in her need of food, and Elijah comes and provides through God’s very life-giving Word through an abundance of meal. “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” This is what God will do and does because God knows her, sees us, and loves her. Through Elijah God shows up to her, for her, and with her. God provides, sustains, and provides life; even especially where life was seeming to be falling away. In the midst of her thinking that they would not have food to sustain themselves, God answers them in their need and provides life.
That truth would be a great story for All Saints by itself, but if you add the next section too to your lesson for your context this week, it might be even richer. We continue then with verse 17, “After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’ But he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, ‘See, your son is alive.’ So the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth’” (1 Kings 17:17-24, NRSV).
Elijah is confronted by the woman and the death of her son. But death would not have the last word. Does that sound familiar? (Perhaps Lazarus or Jesus might come to mind?) Elijah tells her, “Give me your son.” She does what is asked of her. And then Elijah carried him up and cried to the Lord. (“Three times”- another example of the significance of the number three in the scriptures.) The Lord listened to Elijah, just as God did to Moses on the mount, and “the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” In returning the son to his mother he said, “See, your son is alive.” Words the women might hear at the garden about Jesus. Life abundant is real. Life eternal is real. Salvation has literally come to their house. For this, she probably gives thanks and praise, but here, the women actually makes a discipleship move. She says, “Now I know that you are man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” Elijah’s role is confirmed here. But more so, the woman has come to believe that he is true, and most importantly, that God’s Word is truth- that God provides life, and life abundantly. Not just by the provision of bread and meal, but very life itself. This is good news of hope- especially for All Saints.
The gospel verse suggested for this week underscores the significance of God’s move in this story to care for the widow. We read from Luke 4:24-26, “And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon” (Luke 4:24-26, NRSV). A widow at the margin, receives God’s gift and provision of life. It underscores God’s move throughout the scriptures that will be expanded upon by the prophets and the gospels, that God pays particular attention to those at the margins- the widow, the orphan, the outcast, the refugee, the marginalized, etc. We are called to do likewise.
On this All Saints Sunday, perhaps we might remember those saints who have gone before us. Both saints who themselves were marginalized, but also those who went to the margins to care for those in need. And for those who might not otherwise have experienced God’s love and life in this life, unless the quiet saints of faith took their calls of mission, stewardship, and discipleship seriously to seek out the lost and the lonely as Christ’s hands and feet in this world today. We give thanks to all those who walk with God’s people of all times and places, and we give thanks to God in Christ through whom we are all welcomed at the table as God’s beloved. Rich or poor, weak or strong, we are Children of God. Thanks be to God.
As you celebrate All Saints, give thanks for the memory of the saints who have gone before you, and whose example and work as part of God’s on-going work in the world has led you and your faith community to be the faithful people and community that you are/are part of today. May God’s love and grace be with you, and may God’s perpetual light and peace fill you and guide you in your work and ministry this week in particular. -TS