February 2019 Stewardship Lectionary Preview

December 18, 2018 by Christine Chakoian

Rarely do we think of February as Stewardship season – yet oddly, it is ideal to encourage generosity. The three Sundays prior to the Transfiguration provide a glimpse of the transformation Christ desires for us all.

Luke 5:1-11 (Feb. 10): Invitation to be a Blessing

Rev. Dr. Christine Chakoian

Early in Jesus’ ministry, he is teaching the crowds. Even as he is addressing the throngs, he does not miss seeing particular people: fishermen at the shore, washing their nets.

I am struck that Jesus approaches them not because of their needs, but his, and the needs of the crowds pressing in on him to hear God’s word. He recognizes the advantage that a boat would offer as a platform – far better than his position on the shore. For the crowds to hear, he needs the fishermen’s resources, and he shamelessly asks for them. Simon Peter and his partners oblige; they generously share their boat with him. That makes a great stewardship message, doesn’t it? Jesus asks us to share our gifts for the good of all. But Jesus’ use of the fishermen’s gift is not the end of the story.

When Jesus finishes speaking, he invites Simon to put out to the deep water to get a catch of fish. Though skeptical – there’d been no return on that effort before – Simon obliges. He is well rewarded: a catch larger than the nets could hold – so much so, that he recruits James and John, his partners from the other boat to help. Even the boats themselves can’t contain the massive catch! Simon is utterly humbled, and everyone is astonished at the abundance of the blessing. This too is a fine stewardship word: Jesus asks of us what he needs, and blesses us when we share it. But this isn’t the end of the story either.

Now that Jesus has the attention of these stunned fishermen, he asks more of them. No – better said, he asks everything of them. He asks them to leave everything to follow him – and to dedicate their skills, their lives, their resources to help him “fish” for people … people like them, who have gifts to share, and blessings to receive, far more than they could ask or imagine.

This is the beginning of the transformation of their lives: the offering not of a percentage of their gifts, but their entire identity. It is Christ’s invitation to us as well – to recognize that we are blessed not for our own sake, but blessed to be a blessing.

Luke 6:17-26 (Feb. 17): Hints of Blessing

If Jesus is inviting us to be transformed, what does it look like? Jesus turns upside-down the expectations of what “blessedness” means. One imagines blessing to be wealth, satisfaction, delight, prestige. Instead, Jesus counts these as premonition of woe: when our satisfaction is skin deep, and we invest in the fleeting pleasures of this world, we miss enduring joy and abundant life. Remarkably, those who are blessed are precisely those whom the world might deem accursed: the poor; the hungry; the sorrowful; the hated, excluded, reviled, defamed.

I will never forget a visit I made with my mother to her home town in tiny Augusta, Missouri. It had been decades since either of us had been there. She wanted to see it one more time, the home of her parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. So on a summer’s day, we drove down from Chicago, and wandered around her old haunts: the school she attended as a child; the home she grew up in; the church where she was married; the cemetery where generations of her family were buried. And as we walked up one last road, past a farmhouse, an elderly couple sat on their front porch. They recognized my mother – and greeting her, invited us in to their modest home. They offered coffee and cookies, and reminisced about the friendships they shared long ago.  My mother left that place transformed – seeing her tiny town not as a place of humility, but beauty; seeing her childhood not as a time of embarrassment, but joy; seeing her people not as poor, or unsophisticated, but people whose humility overflowed with abundance.

God’s reign is not rooted in the zero-sum-game of materialism. God’s reign turns upside down the world’s kingdoms, where the powerful are venerated and the weak pitied. In God’s reign, the meek shall inherit the earth, and the whole world will be blessed by it.

Luke 6:27-38 (Feb. 24): Fruits of Transformation

On the Sunday before Transfiguration, we catch a glimpse of what a transformed life, a blessed life, looks like:

  • A generosity that not only loves our neighbors as ourselves, but embraces our enemies too.
  • A generosity that not only shares with those who are well-vetted and deserving, but gives to all who beg.
  • A generosity that not only extends to others the commandments’ requirements, but treats others with the same compassion that we desire for ourselves – especially in our most shame-filled, failing moments.

This is the end-game Christ has for us: a generosity so counter-cultural, so against our instincts of self-preservation, that it approaches absurdity. Yet isn’t this exactly what Christ has given us?

The quid pro quo of human law is not the rule of our Lord’s universe. Instead, Christ invites us to live as though God’s reign were already here on earth.

Is it easy? Hardly. It feels extraordinarily vulnerable to pry our fingers off of everything that gives us security in this world: power, wealth, social standing, and more. Yet when we do – as Simon and the fishermen once did, leaving everything behind – we will be blessed with liberation and life more abundant than we could ask or imagine. We will be blessed with no less than this: our true identity as the children of God that we are.

6:38Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

The Rev. Dr. Christine “Chris” Chakoian is vice president for seminary advancement at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Previously she served as pastor/head of staff at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Ill., and Community Presbyterian Church of Clarendon Hills, Ill. In the past 35 years, she also held positions at Presbyterian churches in Oregon, Ohio, and New York. Chris is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A.), Yale University Divinity School (M.Div.), and McCormick Theological Seminary (D.Min.). In service to the church and community, she is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Moveable Feast preaching colloquium, as well as a trustee at Presbyterian Publishing Corp. Additionally, she has served as a co-leader of the PC(USA) Centenary Events honoring the Armenian genocide and was a member of the boards at McCormick Theological Seminary, Lebanese American University (Beirut, Lebanon), and Presbyterian Homes. Her books include Common English Bible – Women’s Bible (editorial board member and writer), Cryptomnesia: How a Forgotten Memory Could Save the Church, Covenant Bible Study (co-host/editorial board member), Feasting on the Gospels (editorial board member and writer), and For Worship, Fellowship, and the Work of the Kingdom. Chris has also written a number of articles for such publications as Christian Century and The Presbyterian Outlook and has contributed to Chicago Sunday Evening Club and Day One videos. She has served as the conference leader or preacher at more than a dozen events on such topics as the impact of globalization on the church and rekindling your call.