Preaching Thoughts- Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Due to the Independence Day holiday this week’s thoughts are coming a day later. Nevertheless, I hope you 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 July 10, 2022: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – Lectionary 15
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-10
Second Lesson: Colossians 1:1-14
Gospel of Luke 10:25-37

There are rich texts regarding discipleship and stewardship in the lectionary this week. Some very familiar words all around, culminating of course in one of the most well known gospel stories there is- Jesus telling the story of the Good Samaritan. As one who myself is preaching this week, I’ll probably concentrate on the gospel lesson. But even so, there is good worth in looking at all the texts and noting what we might see and wonder about. As we usually do, we’ll take the stories in order beginning with the first lesson.

We read from Deuteronomy 30, “and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?‘ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deuteronomy 30:9-14, NRSV).

To name it right off the bat, this is one of those stories which are often cited for the justification of the “prosperity gospel,” and prosperity type thinking and theology. If you are a common reader of this blog, you know what I think about that. I’m not a fan, to put it mildly. I do believe that God provides abundance, and wants all of God’s beloved to live abundantly. I also believe that the reason that often doesn’t happen, is because people hoard what God provides and do not use or share it as they ought for the sake of their neighbors. Hence, abundance isn’t as far reaching as it should be. Prosperity thinking leads to focusing on the individual. I have no problem with wanting life to go well for another, but if that is the focus, rather than the sake of one’s neighbor, then I don’t really find that to be the most faithful understanding of God’s provisions.

So, that said, when reading a story like this, I notice the hope for prosperity and sense the undergirding purpose of the law. The idea that God wants life to go well for God’s beloved. Hence, God provides laws and commandments. Laws like the Shema, that one is love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, body, soul, and strength. And to love their neighbor as themselves, as Jesus will clarify in particular in the gospels. God provides this in abundance, with the hope that God’s own might live life fully and arguably prosper (though not necessarily in the ways our human minds might think about- ie- getting rich with lots of money, etc.). No. The emphasis here in Deuteronomy 30:9-14, seems to be in the last verse about “the Word.” We read, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” This is a sign of incarnation and God’s presence among, with, and in God’s own. The presence and truth of the Word of God guides us in daily life, calls us to see our neighbors, and invites us to respond and listen and pay attention to what God might be up to and inviting. When alert, listening, and responding- one’s life as a disciple and steward grows in depth and breadth. Perhaps that is the sort of prosperity that is actually be implied in the passage like this? If so, it is a nice pivot from our societal thinking, to more a lens of God with us, and living and growing as disciples and stewards as part of God’s on-going presence and work in the world today.

The appointed psalm for this week comes from Psalm 25. If you went to camp (unlike me), you might know this psalm as a sort of camp song that goes, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul…” with clapping and guitar. I know this song because of being a music and worship leader, and also because I’m married to a pastor who happens to be a camp geek. Whether you know the song or not, the psalm is very familiar and has much to say about our life together as disciples and stewards. The psalmist sing, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees” (Psalm 25:1-10, NRSV).

The psalmist provides us words to describe our relationship with God, who God is, and what our response might be. From the very beginning of this psalm, the psalmist describes the walk of discipleship. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust…” We are followers of the way, and followers of God who loves and provides life and salvation, as the psalmist reminds, “for you are the God of my salvation.” This is the why behind why we do what we do. We follow and respond as stewards and disciples because of who God is, what God has done, and what God will do. For we also know like the psalmist, that “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” This theme of law and commandments continues the theme we heard in our first lesson, and which the thread will continue in the next readings too, as we dig into their meaning particularly for our life together as neighbors and Children of God.

The second lesson comes from the beginning of Paul’s letter to the faithful of Colossae. Paul writes, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:1-14, NRSV).

For those looking for some stewardship language this week, look no further than this lesson as Paul gives thanks and gives us words for our gratitude for God and one another. He writes, “In our prayers for you we always thank God…” Paul is giving thanks for the faithful’s stewardship, generosity, discipleship, and faith in action. He then talks some about bearing fruit and growing, like disciples and stewards in response to and enlivened by the grace of God. This might well connect to the theme we heard a couple weeks ago about the fruits of the spirit. Caught up in this Spirit, there is joy. Paul’s hope is that the faithful will “joyfully give thanks,” for the one who has made this life possible and who provides “redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” In this case, Paul is masterfully reminding us of God’s work, and pointing to what that might look like for us as we lean in, grow, follow, and respond as God in Christ’s disciples and stewards, bearing fruit of faith that will last.

Finally, the gospel lesson for this week needs no introduction from Luke 10, we hear from a lawyer with a question (and then another) for Jesus. Jesus responds, and then again, but with the story that we all know well about a Good Samaritan. The story begins, “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-28, NRSV).

I love this affirmation from Jesus. “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” For those who might be Enneagram types 1 and 3 (like me) affirmation like this is gold. You always want to hear that you did a good job, and you know what you are doing. But there is more obviously below the surface here. The lawyer knows in his head what should be true. He understands the law and Shema as we discussed earlier in light of the Deuteronomy story. But he wants to go further. So he is moving from testing Jesus to wanting to justify himself before Jesus. In so doing, perhaps he misses the point entirely of who God is and what God is up to. (Any good Lutheran knows, for example, that one cannot justify themselves before God. Rather, that happens through justification by faith alone as pure gift and grace one could never earn or deserve.)

The story continues, “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:29-37, NRSV).

“And who is my neighbor?” For St. Andrew’s Lutheran in Lincoln, Nebraska, a congregation I visited recently there are many answers to this question. But one is the elementary school next door, who sent this lovely thank you to the whole congregation. How might you or your faith community answer, “Who is my neighbor?”

“And who is my neighbor?” Isn’t that a question we should always be asking ourselves? So in that sense, the lawyer deserves credit because he asks the question (even if not while being totally genuine doing so). The one who showed mercy was neighbor, to his neighbor in need on the side of the road. The lawyer recognizes this in Jesus’ story, as we all do. And to this recognition, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Go and do likewise! This is our call and work as disciples, stewards, Children of God, and neighbors to one another. Embodying the love of God, and living out Jesus’ commandment to love one another. Not to pass by on the other side when we notice another in need, but to show up. To make time. To be present. Because that is what Jesus does for you and me. That’s what God does, for you and me. It’s a generous move. It’s a life-giving, life-changing, and life-saving move. And it’s not a one time thing either. It’s part of life in relationship with God and with our neighbors.

The Samaritan didn’t just care for the man in the moment. He stepped up and shared what he could, providing out of his financial resources for the on-going care for the man’s needs. The two denarii, might also hearken our memory of scripture to another instance which happens during Holy Week, as Jesus witnesses the widow in the Temple giving her mite, or her two coins (perhaps her two denarii). In that case, the widow gives all that she has for the sake of God’s work. We can’t say for sure that the Samaritan has done the same, because we assume he has more than two coins, but he also provides the promise that he will pay whatever is owed when he returns. He is stepping up and using what God has entrusted into his care for the sake of his neighbor in need. That is faith in action. That is discipleship. That is stewardship. That is God’s mission in real time, as the kingdom of God has indeed come near. And we’re called to go and do likewise in fulfilling this call and commandment as we are called and entrusted into relationships with all of God’s children.

What might it mean for you and me to go and do likewise? That’s probably the question on my heart and mind those most today as I wrestle with this familiar text. What questions or ideas are you wondering about? Whatever you are wondering about, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you this week and always!

Sunday July 10, 2022: The Narrative Lectionary- The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme: 1 Peter (Week 1 of 5)
Focus Passage: 1 Peter 1:3-23
Gospel Verse: Matthew 5:11-12

July 10th marks the beginning of the second of three short summer series recommended by the Narrative Lectionary- moving from a series on the 10 Commandments to one on 1 Peter. I’m not sure that I would enjoy preaching a five-week series on this, but if you are embarking on this journey with your congregation, may it be fruitful and timely. And to that end, let’s take the reading for this week in parts and see what we might notice.

The reading begins just about the beginning of chapter 1, as we begin with 1 Peter 1:3. We read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5, NRSV).

This beginning and invocation of sorts invites us into the full text of this book. It grounds us, and keeps center that which is the center of our faith. We are reminded of who God in Christ is, and through whom what has been done and is done for our sakes, and the sake of all of God’s beloved. This reminder, then invites response and activity which the text moves to next.

We continue reading, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9, NRSV).

There is an acknowledgment that the faithful may be being challenged or facing some hard times it seems being implied here. But there is simultaneously expressions and acknowledgments of joy and rejoicing. This seems like a perfect demonstration of the tension in present in discipleship. We follow and have great joy for what God has done and is doing, as disciples. We also know that the life of a disciple with the cross at the center after all, is not always easy or without challenge. It’s a life and death thing. But we know we aren’t alone in it, and we know because of Jesus what is ours to do, and what is not ours to do. And for all of that, like the writer, we can and do give thanks and praises as disciples and stewards of God’s love.

This acknowledgment then leads into the meat of the passage appointed for this first of five week series, as the reading moves from 1 Peter 1:10-23. We continue reading, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look! Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heartYou have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:10-23, NRSV).

As this is the first chapter of this book, its not surprising to hear words of encouragement in this, as well context. We are being reminded of God’s work for us, and being invited too to wonder about what this might mean for us now and next. We are called to prepare our minds for action to “discipline ourselves,” and set all our hope “on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring.” That sounds like a call and invitation to ground ourselves with intention as disciples, doesn’t it? Then being reminded of God’s work, we are invited by the writer as stewards and disciples to have “genuine mutual love,” to “love one another deeply from the heart.” Understanding that we all have been born anew “through the living and enduring word of God.” That grounds, guides, and sends us off as disciples and stewards. And so we are indeed off. That is where we leave off for this week until next in our five week journey through 1 Peter. I wonder where your preaching and teaching around these texts might take you?

If you need any other inspiration, the suggested gospel pairing for this week comes from a portion of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:11-12. Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12, NRSV). Again, we hear a theme that the life of being a follower and disciple will not always be easy. There will be hard times. But we are called to rejoice and be glad. And we do so, when we remember why we do what we do, and whose we are- beloved Children of God.

Whatever lectionary or story or theme captivates you, may you proclaim God’s love boldly with God’s promises holding you and being shared by and through you. -TS

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