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Some Sundays, the stewardship message leaps from the pages. In many lectionary passages, however, the stewardship themes may not be readily apparent.
The following lectionary-based sermon starters offer clues to how stewardship can be an integral part of all our preaching, and how it can be incorporated into group worship or Bible study.
Sermon Starters for December and February 17–24 were written by Stewardship staff. Sermon Starters for January 6–February 10 were written by Lynn Watson (Bancroft-Carlow Pastoral Charge, Bancroft, Ontario).
"The days are surely coming" (Jeremiah 33:14). Yikes! Don't we know it?! The first Sunday of Advent often feels like the start of a very long race. The month to come might be filled with church services, fellowship dinners, shopping, baking, shopping, office lunches, volunteer shifts at the soup kitchen, shopping, Christmas cards, house decorating, and of course, shopping.
All this activity is supposed to get us in the Christmas mood. No wonder that by the time Christmas actually arrives, we're too tired to enjoy it! We need to slow down.
The phrase "the days are surely coming" is meant to offer words of comfort. God is telling us that Jesus will come, that Jesus will do what is just and right.
This is the first Sunday in Advent, a time of waiting and anticipating Christ's birth and the promise of salvation. When we focus too much on the month of activities that is coming, we tend to overlook the promise that is the true gift of Christmas. It is important during Advent to consider all our blessings and how we may share them with others. "The days are surely coming" (Jeremiah 33:14) and it is important for us include the promise of God's justice and grace in our anticipation and celebration.
Questions to consider: How will you spend your time this Advent? Our most precious commodity is our time—will we be spending it wisely?
John the Baptist is one of God's truly magnificent stewards! Son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, John has preceded Jesus since his inception. Consider this: If John had not come to baptize people for redemption and forgiveness of sin, would Jesus have had the same effect or impact on the world?
Think of it this way: In 1875, nearly 140 years ago, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Would RIM have created the BlackBerry or Apple the iphone if Bell had never done his work? No, not likely.
Like John the Baptist, we too have roles to play in God's ministry. John heard his call while living in the wilderness, and he had to leave his wild comfort zone and move into towns to speak to people. Just as John heard and responded to God, we need to hear God's directions for our own lives. Stewardship is answering God's call to use our lives for God's purposes every day. Stewardship starts with listening and then it becomes hearing and acting. When we serve God with our lives, we create paths in the world for others who follow.
Questions to ponder: How do we hear God? How do we listen? How are we like John, fulfilling God's ultimate plan?
The passionate question-and-answer session presented in this Bible passage should be called "How to Be a Good Steward." John instructs the people who come to him for baptism to give away what they don't need, to share their wealth, to take only what they need, and not to impoverish others by their actions. Most importantly, he admonishes them, "Bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8).
In other words, he is telling them—and us!—that it is not enough to be baptized. Each person who wishes to follow God's ways must live a redeemed, baptised life. Doing so requires action that produces good results for others.
We will all soon enjoy the celebration of Jesus' birth and the accompanying promise of salvation. As we wait, think about how this miracle is shared through action.
Questions to consider: What have you produced that looks like "repentance" fruit (Luke 3:8)? When have you seen others produce such fruit? How did John and Jesus produce fruits worthy of repentance?
This passage from the first chapter of Luke reveals the naked humanity of the people in the Bible through a story of mentoring, familial love, and shared experience. Mary is pregnant and having a difficult time, so she goes to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. As it happens, God has also intervened in Elizabeth's life, and Elizabeth is pregnant too. Elizabeth reassures her cousin that Mary is carrying the son of God. The time they spend together encourages Mary.
Elizabeth's example teaches us that as Christian stewards, it is our work to serve as God's presence in the world. This includes comforting those who are confused and frightened and mentoring those who are younger and less experienced. It means leading by example and opening our hearts to those in need. It seems as if we are especially called to do so at Christmastime, but in fact, this is our responsibility every day of the year. By following Elizabeth's example, we may live out Christmas every day.
Questions to ponder: How do we mentor the people around us? Have we assured anyone recently of God's love? Has anybody paused to tell you God loves you? Why is this so hard to do?
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God…through [Jesus]" (Colossians 3:17).
A new year approaches, and this passage from Paul's letter to the Colossians reads like a steward's call to action and an excellent Christian New Year's resolution. What a wonderful year we would have if we could always be compassionate, patient, and forgiving! What a benefit if we were able to be thankful, grateful, and wise in our own lives, homes, and communities! Perhaps our first act of wisdom would be to post this passage where we could reread it every day.
In particular, verse 17 reminds us that everything we do, we do in Christ's name, and that our lives are given and our actions enabled through God. As a result of this bountiful gift, we should respond with thanksgiving.
As we look to the new year, take a minute to think about what you have and what you have accomplished. How will you respond in the year ahead to the abundance in your life? How will you be working in Christ's name in 2013? What will you look like clothed in "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Colossians 3:12)?
“For [God] delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. [God] has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy” (Psalm 72:12–13)
Now that Christmas is over and we have all gained five pounds, it seems like a good time to reflect on “fullness.” How much time did we spend building the “perfect holiday” with our families and friends? Did it work? Does anyone ever have that picture-perfect, Norman Rockwell Christmas? Evidence suggests that it’s rare. For most of us, it’s just a day in our normal life, with some shiny decorations and a few extra family squabbles thrown in.
As we reflect on the Christmas just past and look ahead to the coming year, why not choose a different model for our next holiday season? We, too, can give from our fullness; what seems like the ordinary trappings of living to us might seem like a bonanza to someone in need. Everyone has something to give—time, money, emotional support—that will bring grace to both the recipient and the giver.
Have you ever noticed that when the chair of stewards or the chair of council—really, any committee chair—asks to speak on Sunday morning, there’s often an inaudible, collective moan: “What’s wrong now?”
We live in a world conditioned to expect bad news. Every time we turn on the television, it’s the same thing: something is going wrong somewhere in the world. Even good news seems to be spun in a bad way. You know the old saying, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!” Even Christians sometimes seem to have lost sight of good news, which is the saddest thing of all, because our job is to preach the gospel, which is our good news. It’s important break away from our “bad news” conditioning to listen for the voice of God providing wisdom, guidance, and that ever so important good news of faith and redemption!
There are some people whose car never sees the inside of the garage, because it is full of tools—it’s not a garage; it’s a tool box! There would be room for the vehicle, if you could just buy one tool that does it all: take off rusted bolts, cut angles for trim, put in drywall screws, and drive home a nail. I know, I know…“Dream on!”
But that’s the way it is with the church. God has given us one tool that does it all. There are various gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various ways to use the gifts, but one Spirit, and there are a variety of outcomes, but the same Spirit works altogether.
Minister-on-the-Hot-Seat Sunday: This sermon takes a bit of preparation. The first step is to let the congregation know a couple of weeks ahead of time that this Sunday will be a day when they can bring their questions. The model for this is the story from Nehemiah: “...the Levites explained the Law to the people, while the people kept their places. Ezra read from the book of the Law of God, translating and giving the sense; so the reading was understood.”
Immediately after the text is read, leave the pulpit and go down into the congregation and field their questions. If you need to, you can ask that the questions come to you before the service, so you can be prepared.
There is a scene in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which Robin Hood is teaching a young boy how to use the bow and arrow. Much to everybody’s surprise, the boy’s accuracy surpasses Robin Hood’s. With a bit of indignation, Robin Hood says, “But can you hit the target amid distractions?” So many things have crept in and distracted the church from its primary mission: love! Even our good works have taken away our focus from hitting the target to love.
First, we cannot take this passage from Luke apart from the story that precedes it. The passage for today starts, “Eight days later…” which makes one ask: “What happened eight days before?” Eight days earlier, Jesus told his disciples that if they intended to follow him, they must first take up their cross. Discipleship comes with a price.
Imagine shopping for a car in a dealership. You check out the sheet of paper in the car window, which lists the basics and the extras for that particular model, as well as what it will cost you to buy it. It’s one thing to know everything about a vehicle based on the book, and something entirely different to actually take it out for a test drive.
Up to this point, Peter, James, and John have been looking at the model, but witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus must have been like taking their leader out for a test drive: now they get to see all the power that’s under the hood!
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). The days and weeks of Lent provide a perfect set time for us to think and reflect. We don’t have to be tempted by the devil as Jesus was in the wilderness. Instead, we can put ourselves to the test: How often do we consciously call on the name of the Lord in our faith lives, in our daily lives? As believers we call on the name of the Lord, but when was the last time we shared anything about our faith with others? Are we grudging or gracious when we are called upon to give gifts of money or time or presence to our congregation or the wider church? When we put ourselves to the test, do we think we pass?
Jesus wishes to protect us and gather us “together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). Who belongs to our “brood” that we might gather beneath our wings and protect? To whom should we extend our stewardship and care? What are the limits of such stewardship? In the world today, how do we go about imitating Jesus and the apostle Paul in caring for others, living faithful lives, and answering God’s call to witness and mission?