Texts for Stewardship Preaching
Some of these great texts are direct and openly point to stewardship themes for preaching and teaching. Other texts are more subtle and need the skilled person in homiletics to “tease out” the underlying possibility of a message appropriately related to stewardship and its faithful practice. Keep in mind that Stewardship is about more than money, and the texts selected below reflect that understanding. In general, care for the earth, care for the Gospel, care for self, the observation of Sabbath, and the management of resources all fit into the this broader interpretation.
Most of these texts occur in the standard cycle of the Revised New Common Lectionary, though some do not. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a starting place to encourage and stimulate your own imagination. You may not find the elements for preaching about stewardship that others have seen in these texts – that is okay. You may find other texts not listed here where you have found fertile ground for the proclamation about stewardship – please feel free to share them with us via the Blog Spot on our website.
Many of the texts and brief commentary listed below came from the resource Inspiring Generosity (produced by the United Church of Christ) and are used here by permission.
Found here is the promise that creation has more than enough to survive. The blessing/command to “be fruitful and multiply” suggests that there is enough to ensure generativity – a future — where creation does not simply have enough to sustain itself, but to thrive. One can also examine what it means to have dominion over the creation – to rule on the earth as God rules in the cosmos. The liturgical response on each day of creation: “it is good”, affirms both God’s delight in creation, and God’s care for the uniqueness of each being created.
God’s call of Abraham is a summons to the people of God not to let old ways of living and conventional belief prevent moving into a quality of life far “richer” than heretofore known-promise and blessing meant for others, too. “By you (better than “in you”) all the families of the earth shall bless themselves(v.3), in the helpful alternative rendering of the NRSV. God’s people are the means but not the end or sole example of blessing and being blessed.
A prayer from The New Century Hymnal (874) sums up the thrust of these key verses that begin with the “great commandment” (6:4-5; Mark 12:29-30) — to love God above all else with all our heart, soul, and might:
May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much;
May you fear God enough that you need fear nothing at all.
This outlook breaks the grip of any possessiveness that inhibits generosity.
The wealth or “abundance” of our lives is a gift, not just a given. That is, no more than with life itself do we have this as something we can earn or deserve. It is not entitlement but blessing in which others are meant to share.
This is one of the few places in scripture where the tithe is actually mentioned and the practice is described for us to examine. In this passage, the tithe is a party! It is the whole community bringing the bounty of the land’s produce (abundance) together in celebration. The tithe is practiced here so that there is appropriate “fear of the Lord” – which is a way of remembering that God is God and we are not! God is ultimately the provider and we the beneficiaries of that provision.
Again the practice of tithe is spelled out for us and it is described as liturgy. The gift is made; and along with the gift (still to be eaten by the whole community in celebration) is the testimony of the salvation history and self-understanding of Israel. Freedom, the land, the produce of the land – all gifts of God’s providence for everyone (including the resident aliens in the land) to enjoy.
Taking seriously divine judgment and mercy, David is not about to give God less than his best – something possible for all of us, and never more likely than when we are caught up in what we care about, knowing the blessing of giving accordingly. Davie cannot enjoy God’s mercy by giving something that “costs him nothing.”
About the giving required to build the temple, the house of God. “For all things come from you, [O Lord] and of your own have we given you” (v 14b). Leaders must “walk the talk,” letting their own generosity be an example and inspiration to others.
The temple or house of God welcomes and celebrates the truth that God’s kingdom or “realm” includes the entire earth; God’s love embraces all of life. This sovereign love “lifts up” us all, and any denial closes the doors on God’s presence and prevents us from sharing in the divine blessing of life. “Be lifted up, O ancient doors! (vv. 7,9).
Giving is futile “sacrifice”, religiously superficial and unacceptable to God, except as participation in the abundance, the quality of life, in which others share too – which is the purpose of the temple (and the church). “Learn to do good, seek justice” (v. ), that all may know the goodness of life God makes possible.
God’s house – in those days, the temple – was the place from which the produce, the abundance, of the land was redistributed. Dereliction in fulfilling one’s rightful “tithe” upset the harmony that alone could assure prosperity in the land. Restoration of this commitment will issue in “over-flowing blessing” for all (v. 10). Don’t let argument about “tithing” – giving a tenth of annual giving ‘’ upstage the main point about giving, its motivation and outcome: Generosity comes from an experience of “abundance,” and blessing of which is literally lost unless shared with others, and impossible to gain alone.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). Faith and money are two sides of the same coin. Where the one is, the other is also. We easily pretend otherwise, making faith immaterial or money unspiritual. Money makes a wonderful servant and a lousy master.
Jesus feeding the five thousand with “nothing her but five loaves and two fish” (v. 17). Often thinking we don’t have enough, we fail to see and take seriously what we already have. It is from what we have, not what we don’t, that we find what we need…and then some!
Wanting more, thinking what we have is not enough, we squander opportunity presently ours, “just as I am, without one plea,” in the words of the gospel song. In this well-known parable of the talents, as in Luke’s of the pounds, the message is use it or lose it. It is in the use of what we have, not the amount, that we learn and practice, or practice and then learn still more, the abundance already yours.
Matthew 25: 31-46
In caring for “the least of these” we are caring for Jesus, we find the single largest explanation given by Jesus in the New Testament of the criteria for obtaining entrance into the heavenly realm. It strongly suggests that care of the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak and the vulnerable matters to God. Using our resources to advocate on behalf of “these little ones” seems to be a proper and important use of what we have and that we will be held accountable for our choices.
The story of the rich man is often best remembered for the difficult words of Jesus: “Go, sell all that you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” It is striking to imagine the scene as it unfolds – “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (a precious detail from Mark) and at then at end of the story “and he (the man) went away sad, for he had many things.” Clearly, the issue was not so much that the man had many things – but that his many things had him. Jesus seeks to help us shed the things – whatever they may be – that separate us from God. Sometimes that is our wealth; sometimes it is something else that wants to take the place of God. In the words that follow this encounter, Jesus warns that it is hard for the rich to get into heaven. Fortunately, he offers a word of grace (v. 27) in response to the wondering of the disciples: “Who can enter the Kingdom?” “With God, all things are possible.”
In this story of the poor widow’s generosity, the irony of abundance is made clear. Less is more when what we give exceeds what we withhold. “Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you.”
The parable of the rich fool is clear: life’s abundance does not consist in possessions. Those who “store up treasures for themselves” (v. 21) become victims of anxiety, always wondering if they have enough. Real security is found – and the true richness of life experienced – not in guarding what we have but in giving what we can. “Abundance” is not a private possession but a shared experience.
Easily confusing, this parable of the shrewd steward is also provocative. It emphasizes the importance of being astute in using possessions so as to gain rather than lose one’s future. There is no way to acquire money that is pure and perfect, unsullied by questionable means and motives. That should not become a pious excuse to avoid responsibility for the wise use.
When the Holy Spirit shows up – powerful things begin to happen. The early church community is able to move from living in fear to living into the bold new way of generosity. They sell what they have so no one is in need. They hold all things in common – and in experience of their unity and purposefulness of their mission – they attract others to the message and life of Jesus. Generosity is a mark of transformation.
The common ownership of possessions is again mentioned as a mark of the new community in Christ. Generosity abounds and the gifts of the generous make a difference. Joseph of Cyprus (whom we come to know as Barnabas) makes a gift so significant, it becomes a part of the church’s historical witness recorded in Acts. The opposite of generosity and its consequences are also told in the story that follows in Acts 5:1-7! Stewardship is a life and death issue!
In the story of Tabitha (Gazelle), we have a resurrection story which should always get our attention. Tabitha made tunics and garments for the widows and the poor in the community. Peter has been summoned to the community of faith in Joppa where she lived, and now has died. Tabitha (a disciple, according to the text), had such an impact on the early church, they could not imagine going forward without that kind of generosity in their midst. “Tabitha, get up” – and she does.
The word rendered “servants” means, literally, “under-rowers.” The figure is that of a ship impelled by oars under the command of a captain. “Stewards” as servants (or ministers) of Christ” labor under the inspiration of the truth about life – “God’s mysteries” – disclosed in Jesus. Their most important quality, given the challenge involved, is fidelity, faithfulness – staying true to the cost and joy of an understanding of life at odds with prevailing sensibility.
1 Corinthians 16:1-4
Concerning the Church’s first relief offering, which becomes a pattern for giving, Paul suggests that it is intentional. The offering is not the moment for leftovers and after thoughts. It is a decision and discipline, which results in a gift worthy of both the giver and the need to be addressed. Perhaps estimate of giving cards have not really gone out of style – they reflect intent and require discipline.
“Abundance” is not a function of good times; a “wealth of generosity” can “overflow” even “during a severe ordeal of affliction” (v. 2). It is the “genuineness of love” in response to the joy of a life made known in Jesus Christ that makes us eager to give “according to what one has—not according to what one does not have” (v.12). Also emphasized is the equality between givers and receivers whereby those who receive give as generously as those who give, and neediness proves an illusion next to the actual abundance in which all share.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
God provides “every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (v. 8). There is no need to “sow sparingly” and, hence, “reap sparingly.” We can “sow bountifully” and “reap bountifully” (v. 6), “enriched in every way for [our] great generosity” (v. 11).
“Abundance” is the truth about life made known in the spirit or disposition of Jesus, the driving force of the church. So Paul says in these verses that “generosity” is part of the “fruit” of the Spirit. It is impossible to turn on the lights of greater giving when the power is off…or low. Morale, or what the church calls Spirit, is “the power that turns on the lights,” and the number one stewardship challenge!
Contrary to what God’s people often believed, outsiders (Gentiles), no just insiders (Jews), have always been part of the divine plan wherein all are meant to know the good news of abundant life. Paul sees himself as making this “mystery” plain. He prays that the power of God at the heart of life – part of the “the boundless riches of Christ” (v. 8) – makes us “bold and confident” (v.12), so that we may be “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19), which is the fullness of life (John 10:10).
God “Richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (v. 17). God wants us to be happy! To “Take hold of the life that really is life” (v. 19) is to experience abundance as a gift to be shared: It is no private possession and beyond anything we can earn or deserve. Not being rich or having money, but “the love of money” is “a root of all kinds of evil” (v.10). That love fuels insatiable desire, makes for unhappiness, and reduces the blessing of life to something we must gain rather than seek to share.