Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
February 16, 2020
Lessons: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people listen to Jesus and go the extra distance to choose real life.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. Deuteronomy 30:15
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:9
Oh yes! There’s plenty of talk and chatter in our world. You can find about as many opinions as there are people, a reality that renders discernment of truth and fiction a difficult task. Yes, in both in secular and religious settings, “you have heard it said” is most certainly true. How, then, does the faithful steward and disciple choose well what God presents to us? How do we make sense of competing claims and shiny bright falsehoods? To what truth shall we cling?
Obviously (at least one would hope), as people of faith we cling to the good news of Christ, of God with us, of a promise delivered that offers real life. It’s a choice that God has been offering God’s people for thousands of years. One would think a proper response is a no-brainer, but humanity’s learning curve is steep. God had to resort to taking on flesh and bone to make the divine point, but even that didn’t inspire full commitment in all people.
This week we have the opportunity, dear preachers and teachers, to lay out the path of the choices God offers, and to describe the elements that define a life of deep discipleship. More than that, friends, we have the privilege of telling the story of how radical discipleship changes lives. After all, you have to figure it’s good (this life) if it inspires people to live counter-culturally in an individualistic me-centered society. I’m not suggesting that you flail your folks to death with law, but rather invite them into the story of how the good news fulfills and completes the law and how their lives can be so much more when they truly choose God’s way to real and lasting life. Blessings on your faithful teaching and preaching!
Here are a few points you may wish to flesh out and incorporate into your proclamation and study:
- The law was given for the good and flourishing of God’s people. It was to help keep them safe and healthy in a dangerous and foreign land they were inheriting.
- God’s call to choose life and the good requires total commitment, but God lays out what’s involved: love God, walk in God’s ways, observe the commandments, decrees, and ordinances, listen, don’t serve or pay homage to others gods, obey God, and cling to the Lord. In short, stay connected to your power source. God already tells the people in Deuteronomy 30:14 “…the Word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.”
- Choosing life means different things at different stages of discipleship development. Paul talks about feeding the new disciples in Corinth with milk rather than solid food. Our spiritual life develops over time, usually in incremental and developmentally appropriate steps. This is why participation and learning in the context of a faith community is so essential. We journey together, not alone.
- Radical discipleship may take us down paths we do not expect to travel. Because we are part of a narrative much bigger than ourselves, our work may seem fragmented or incomplete. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and others will take up the slack when we are no longer able. The thread that holds it all together is God. “God gave the growth” Paul reminds us that it’s not about us and our abilities but rather God working in and through us.
- Jesus expects more than the minimum. In today’s gospel lesson Jesus contrasts what folks have been taught (the letter of the law) with what he expects from disciples. Suffice it to say that discipleship is an active proposition, one that is an identity rather than a job, a lifestyle more than an event. We go high when others go low. We go the extra mile when others say no. We love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbors as ourselves.
- Why would anyone choose to give up self-actualization in this culture of “me first”? This is where testimony and storytelling come into the picture. Do you have folks in your worshiping community who embody Jesus’ radical call to discipleship? Might you be willing to share your own call story? If you’re looking for stories to share, consider these:
- Jeff and Kari Patterson felt God calling them to sell their new dream house so that they could give more generously to the poor. In the process Jeff heard God calling him to leave his associate pastor position to start a church in neighborhood steeped in poverty. Click here to read more about their story.
- Former NFL center Jason Brown’s life had always revolved around faith, family, and football. At age 29 as the highest paid center in the NFL ($35 million contract with the St. Louis Rams), Brown took a leap of faith and a career change with his wife, Tay. He began watching farming videos, and the couple bought 1,000 acres in North Carolina, his home state. Now he feeds the hungry with harvests from his “First Fruits Farm.” Click here to read more about Jason and Tay Brown.
- The Salwen family of Atlanta decided to sell their house and give half the proceeds to help families in Ghana become self-sufficient. The house sale came at the request of fourteen-year-old Hannah Salwen, whose heart for the poor moved her parents and brothers to practice radical generosity. Hannah and her father wrote the book The Power of Half to help others envision lives of generosity and compassion. A dollar from the sale of each book benefits Rebuilding Together, a non-profit that helps low-income home owners with needed repairs. Click here to learn more about the Salwen family.
- Jeremy and Jessica Courtney were concerned about the conflict in Iraq, so much so that they moved there more than a decade ago in an act of radical trust and discipleship to “wage peace.” Together they founded Preemptive Love, a non-profit that helps children receive life-saving medical treatment, assists refugees with training and skills to make a living and begin rebuilding their lives, and provides food and other emergency provisions in areas of conflict where other non-profits may not be willing to go. They have written two books and produced a documentary film. Click here for more information.
What does it look like to choose life and all that is good? Consider this as you plan your worship today. You might want to include music and song that talks about loving God and neighbor. You could include a personal interview with a congregant who spearheads or is active in a community ministry that serves beyond your congregation. Be sure to ask how that person’s faith inspired them to serve.
If your congregation has ministries that show God’s love and help care for your neighbors (near and far), consider a slide show with photos of these ministries to play while you sing a hymn or worship song. This is a good opportunity to practice stewardship of gratitude by saying thank you to members of your worshiping community who give of their time, talent, and treasure for the sake of the kindom in your context.
Paul’s words to the Christ followers at Corinth are important ones for us today. Read the lesson using some form of Lectio Divina. For this exercise you might want to read the lesson (1 Corinthians 3:1-9) from three versions (such as the NRSV, The Message, and the Common English Bible). Consider these and other questions:
- What level of spiritual “food” makes up your diet today? Why? Are you ready for a full Cosmic Christ dinner?
- Paul suggests the presence of different factions in the Corinthian church. What different factions do you see in present day Christianity? Are there different factions within your own faith community?
- Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” How does it feel to know that the work you started may be completed by someone else? Is it comforting or annoying to realize that you are part of a long chain of God’s people?
- What does verse eight have to teach us today?
- How do you understand verse nine? What does it mean to be God’s field and God’s building? How do you understand the communal emphasis of working together to serve God and neighbor? What is your faith community doing to serve others? What are you doing?
This week’s focus verse is Deuteronomy 30:15 – Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong (CEB)
Our lesson from Deuteronomy today has God offering the people a choice. We like to have choices, right? Would you rather be told you’re having applesauce or nothing for dessert or be given a choice of applesauce, a brownie, or some ice cream? Most of us appreciate having choices, even when sometimes it’s hard to choose. I would want BOTH the ice cream and the brownie—with chocolate sauce and sprinkles! Normally I like applesauce, but it can’t compete with ice cream OR chocolate. So it would be hard for me to choose just one. Life is full of both hard and easy choices.
The choice that God continually gives us is a really important one: life and what’s good or death and what’s wrong. If we choose to follow God’s good recipe for real life, then we have something that no one can ever take away from us. If we turn our backs on God’s good choice, then our other option will lead to problems and wrong. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer real life over the path that leads to bad things.
It seems like a good idea to choose life, right? It is. But here’s the truth: You will receive many more enticing opportunities to choose the wrong path. Destruction and evil can look pretty appealing on the surface—like maybe the most amazing and beautiful ice cream sundae with double chocolate and triple sprinkles. But that amazing dessert will only leave you with one massive bellyache that wasn’t from a healthy choice.
How do you keep following God and choosing the good? Pray! That’s always the first thing. Keep good company. Come to worship regularly and get to know people in our faith community. See God in every other person. If you see God in others you’ll be more likely to want to work for their good. Love. Love always wins. Love God and your neighbor and work for the good of all. You are not alone when you make the choice to follow God and choose life. You stand on the shoulders of many saints and faithful disciples. God is with you, Jesus loves you, and the Holy Spirit will guide your feet, mind, and heart.
Let’s pray together:
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you for loving us (thank you for loving us) and calling us to choose life (and calling us to choose life) and all that is good (and all that is good). Help us to love You (Help us to love You) and our neighbors (and our neighbors). In Jesus’ name (In Jesus’ name) Amen. (Amen.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
As faithful stewards we must decide how to respond to God’s call to “choose life and prosperity” over “death and adversity.” Are you ready to choose life and all that is good by following Christ into the world? Are you willing to invest yourself fully in God’s kindom, rejoicing in God’s promises for you and all of creation?
Stewardship at Home
This week spend some time thinking about the choices you make every day. Take a large sheet of paper and divide it into two columns labeled Good/Life and Wrong/Death. Affix it to the refrigerator or place it in another convenient place. At the end of each evening, review the choices you made throughout your day. Which ones have led to good and which ones may have led to wrong. Think beyond the obvious. For example, if you bought a new shirt from a big box or seasonal fashion store, did you consider whether your choice to buy this inexpensive item would have been life-giving for others (a fair wage, proper treatment of water, soil, air, etc.)? How might you have made a more life-giving choice (buying something fairly traded or from a secondhand store, or doing your research to make sure that the fashion label engages in fair labor practices)?
At the end of the week take a look at your lists. What do you notice? How difficult is it to choose good and life over death and wrong? Pray to God to continue to help you choose life more fully in all aspects of your life. Give thanks for God’s goodness, mercy, and love. Even if you made more bad than good decisions this week, remember that you are God’s beloved. You are forgiven to go forward and choose life.
2014 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/02/community-gardening/
2011 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/02/the-high-cost-of-love/
Images: Quinn Dombrowski and let grow therapy and counseling – helping children to thrive, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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