October 2019 Lectionary Preview: Stewardship Reflection
September 4, 2019 by Rev. Amantha Barbee
1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.
1:2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.
1:3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.
1:4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
1:5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.
1:6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
17:6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
17:7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?
17:8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?
17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?
17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Our Lamentation text takes us on a journey through the struggles of Jerusalem and Judah. We don’t have to look very far into scholarly thought to find misery, lost finances, betrayal, loneliness, and distress. I would invite you to take a closer look at this text through a metaphorical lens.
What if verses 1 – 6 were speaking not of cities but of our churches? What if this mournful song was actually a gift of prophecy not lament? What if our text read a bit differently?
- How lonely sits our church that was once full of people! How like ‘Blockbuster Movies’ she has become, she that had to go to two services to handle the crowd. The church was an amazing place and everybody wanted to be there. It was the thing to do.
- The pastors and elders complain to one another in the back rooms but come out on Sunday to perform for the enemies. (All her lovers??? Women in antiquity weren’t supposed to have lovers. The church was up to no good!) Many have turned their back on the church because of hypocrisy.
- The church up the street is experiencing the same thing. They gave in to the world though. Nobody is happy about it but the preacher took off his robe, got a praise band and fired the organist. Yet, they still suffer.
- It seems nothing they do brings people to the Wednesday night soup and salad Bible chats. The pastors are at their wits end and the young people are angry that they have to sit through the same thing week after week.
- The coffee shops, the soccer games, the home office, the mobile office, and scooters in the park have become the Sunday masters. They are quite prosperous. No matter how much we pay a youth director, the kids still go off to college and never return except Mother’s Day and Easter.
- The church just isn’t the same anymore. ‘Build the house and the people will come no longer works for us.’ Our children, our children’s children, and generations to come will be led out into the world with a weak Biblical foundation.
What will we do? Well, Our Luke text tells us to have faith. But, we all know that faith without action is guaranteed death. As we embark upon our season of Stewardship, how will we walk in and by this faith with faithful servitude, trust, and expectancy?
A mustard seed is tiny but if everyone brings a seed and drops it on the table, soon there will be enough for a pot of soup.
That’s where we are today. Stewardship calls us to have faith in God, not ourselves, but God. Jerusalem once thought itself grand and she lost everything. Lamentations 1:2 speaks of pastors and church leaders not doing their part but being a part of the problem. We must come with our authentic selves to be appreciated and supported.
The youth can see straight through a person who has a personal agenda. When we are practicing real stewardship, we consider the entire body. The pastors must steward their time and efforts. The elders must steward their time and talents as well. Congregants are called to stewardship as well. We all have a responsibility to give in accordance to what has been given to us. Truth and transparency is the key to success. Yesterday’s glory is in the past and the way in which we do ministry has changed. Perhaps it’s time to do a spiritual gifts assessment of the
congregation to find willing participants to be great stewards of time. There are those who give their support and perhaps they can teach others.
Christians being excited about the Gospel is not a dead idea. It is alive and well. Yes, the church has lost some people, money, support, ministries, and more. But….
To be certain, there is one very important thing that the church has not lost and that is Jesus. Jesus wants his body to be whole. We can be different in the world and find wholeness. People will support that in which they believe.
Are we teaching belief in Jesus today or are we doing like Judah and trying to assimilate something we don’t understand, the world? Giving 100% of ourselves, sacrificing for the love of Christ is the only way his church thrives.
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Amantha Barbee serves as Senior Pastor of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia. She holds a Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, where she earned the E.T. George Award for Excellence in Homiletics and Worship. Rev. Barbee worked in corporate sales for over 10 years before heeding the call to ministry, then served as a program director in an area women’s homeless center. She previously served as pastor at Statesville Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, since 2011, and is currently working on her doctoral degree at Columbia Theological Seminary, which she expects to complete in 2020. She is a native of Charlotte.