Introduction to the readings for Stewardship Sunday
We begin our readings from Hebrew Scripture with selected verses attributed to the prophet, Ezekiel. Originally educated as a priest serving in the Temple of Jerusalem, here Ezekiel is thought to be speaking God’s Word to a divided audience of the scattered in exile, in Babylon approximately 600 years before Jesus was thought to walk the earth.
What do you think it might have been like for Ezekiel’s listeners to be reminded that their leaders have not been effective, that God is in charge, and that God will establish a shepherd descending from David?
A Reading from the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, verses 11-16 and 20-24. “God searches for the sheep” and “God judges between the fat and the lean”.
“For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land: and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice….
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. ”
In response to our Hebrew Scripture text, we are invited sing together our responsive hymn found at VU Page 747, The 23rd Psalm.
Our good news this morning comes to us from the final chapter of Matthew’s gospel with Jesus’ final public teaching. Here, Jesus offers his farewell instructions to those gathered together one last time with him before he faces his death on the cross.
Imagine yourself listening in somewhere along the edges of the gathered crowd as Jesus instructs his listeners about the need to be prepared for all eventualities.
At the same time as being on the lookout for his return, he tells them this:
Be about the business of stewardship: the sharing God’s gifts with the last and the least and make sure you do so from a place of bold and extravagant compassion.
A reading from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 25 verses 31-46. “When you helped the least of these, you helped me.”
“ ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me’.
Then the righteous will answer him: ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, then you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they will also answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Response: Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Thanks be to God.