Lectionary Reflections for Sunday, September 7, 2014
Note: Beginning this week, we will be bringing you reflections on both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary texts. We believe every sermon is really a stewardship sermon, and we hope you’ll find having reflections on both lectionaries helpful.
13th Sunday after Pentecost, Revised Common Lectionary, Year A
A Debt of Love
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 13:8-9
What if, this Sunday, you talked about love as a stewardship issue? Too often when we sound the call to stewardship, all people hear is, “They’re asking me for more money.” Yes, stewardship is about the use of our resources–and money is definitely an important resource–but we are called to be good stewards in all aspects of life. What Jesus defined as the central command on which hang all the law and prophets is to love God with everything you have and your neighbor as yourself. So how are we doing as stewards of love?
Reflecting on Paul’s entreaty to “owe no one anything, except to love one another,” are you being as lavish with your love debt as you are with your mortgage, your car loan, and your educational debt? Does your consumer debt load pale in the face of your prodigal love? I wonder what it might look like if we asked one another to love more, to be more generous in sharing our love with one another, with all of our neighbors. What kind of stewardship campaign might we run this fall if we asked folks to find more ways to share and live that agape love? Instead of asking parishioners to pony up solely for more pledge dollars, consider inviting everyone to commit to a marked increase in how they show, shower, walk, and live in love. Provide some tangible opportunities in the way of ministries both in the congregation and in the community. Find ways for people to share their stories and experiences of where they see God at work in the world as they reflect the love of Christ.
When we encourage one another to be better stewards of God’s love and love for one another, discipleship naturally takes deeper root in our lives. Oh, and if you’re worried about stewardship of treasure, don’t be overly concerned. There’s a direct correlation between discipleship, regular engagement in a community of faith, and increased generosity. The pocketbook will open, and willingly, if we attend to the central issue of loving God and one another first.
Invite worshipers to consider what might be “agape” or “sacrificial” love for them. Would it be a sacrifice of their time? Would it be an investment of learning about a group or culture you don’t understand? Might it be forgiving and reconciling with someone who has hurt you or whom you have hurt? Could it be investing your time, talent, and treasure in a new ministry? Consider making an “agape tree” on which would hang cards listing acts of servant love from which people could choose. Or, create the opposite and invite people to place a card on a tree to symbolize that which they covenant to do.
Peer mediation has become more prevalent in schools. Invite youth to reflect on what opportunities there are in their own school systems in light of the gospel lesson today. How might peer mediation in the school differ from reconciliation in one’s faith community? What are the similarities? Why is such reconciliation lifted up by Jesus? Search for stories where reconciliation and mediation have made a real difference. If you have someone trained to provide peace, reconciliation, and mediation training, consider offering this training for youth. Better yet, consider planning and hosting a Peace Camp next summer.
If this is “Rally Sunday” or the beginning of your year of Christian education programming, consider using this week’s Psalm (119:33-40) as the basis for a blessing of all involved in your congregation’s program. Talk with students about the importance of learning about God and what it means to be a disciple. Talk with the teachers about the importance of their role as faith transmitters. Also invite parents and grandparents forward for a blessing and commend to them the role of carrying the faith from worship into the home and world.
For more about this week’s RCL lessons, see “Messy Moments in Ministry” from 2011.
Narrative Lectionary, Year 1, September 7, 2014
As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:9-11
It’s more than a science project gone awry; the Creator of the universe is ready to throw in the towel on creation. How bad must it have been for God to feel that the whole project needed to be scrapped? We’re not talking cute little plastic ark and matched sets of critters either. This story is devastating and horrifying; no wonder we tend to gloss over it when it shows up at the Easter Vigil or in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary (depending on when Easter falls). With the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1, we get to kick off the back-to-school church season with a condensed version of the story. The focus is on God’s covenant in the face of the creation’s sin and abandonment.
This lesson is a fine one to use as a stewardship of all creation story, especially in light of the fact that this month world leaders will gather in New York City for a climate summit. Bill McKibben and others have called for a massive, peaceful march on Sunday, September 21, to heighten awareness about global warming. Folks are all over the spectrum, mostly spurred by political and media rhetoric at polar (no pun intended) opposites. Yet the majority of scientists seem to agree that we humans are causing significant damage to our planet, damage that affects not only those of us here now, but also future generations. While some feast, many others face starvation and malnutrition. That so many are hungry in a world of plenty is violence. Yes, our choices do have an impact on one another and on this beautiful and fragile eco-system upon which all creation is dependent for life.
But one must also take care with this story to avoid the bully pulpit or a heavy and condemning hand. A focus on confession of failing to properly care for the creation with which we have been tasked to steward, a lament for those who suffer because of our choices, and a call to turn and choose better paths are certainly possible approaches, especially when cast in the light of God’s grace-filled covenant and will for life rather than destruction.
God is still and always a God of hope and possibility. The covenant with Noah and all creation reminds us of this aspect of the Divine nature. Yes, there was destruction, but not complete. Think of the ark as a little divine “sourdough starter.” God is never done with us. Let that covenant relationship ferment and grow in your heart. Go out and practice love and reconciliation, feed the hungry, and care for neighbor and creation.
How is your congregation doing with stewardship of creation? Have you explored how to make your building more energy-efficient? Do you have a community garden? Are you recycling? Do you use fair-trade coffee and other products? If so, lift up these practices and celebrate them. If not, consider asking for volunteers to serve on a task force or creation stewardship team and commission them to study and make recommendations. Encourage worshipers to come up with one thing they can do starting today to be a better steward of God’s good creation.
Some youth may have seen Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film Noah. It has proven to be quite controversial in certain corners of the Christian world, but it is certainly worthy of discussion–and perhaps of viewing and discussing. Be sure to read several reviews of the film from both sides of the aisle. One I found particularly helpful was in Variety magazine. Another excellent review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brusset is found here on their website spiritualityandpractice.com. The film is not a literal interpretation of scripture but rather one artist’s view of the character Noah and the ancient world. Make sure you have viewed the film and done your homework before tackling this meaty movie.
Consider making rainbow suncatchers with children using either torn tissue paper or used crayon scraps. Invite them to hang their rainbows in a window to serve as a reminder of God’s covenant with them. With God there is always hope and a future.