By Mary Simonson Clark
RCL Reflection, Sixth Sunday after
the Epiphany, Year A
Click here for the lessons
February 12, 2023
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not . . . But I say to you . . .’” -Matthew 5:21-22a
Before planning the service, it may help to assess your congregation’s “calendar context”—beyond Super Bowl Sunday! As the next-to-the-last Sunday after the Epiphany, it’s a time to focus on our role of bearing Christ’s light to all the world through stewardship of our lives. It’s also the “season of congregational annual meetings” when reports highlight the past year–including how we stewarded God’s gifts to us. Furthermore, we approve a new budget, which can approximate a moral document that supports our faith values. These lenses resonate with Sunday’s lessons.
A consistent theme runs throughout this week’s Scripture readings. From law through gospel, God calls us to be stewards of our lives in ways that love God and our neighbors.
In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Israelites to “choose life” by walking in God’s ways and obeying God’s commandments; this aligns us with God’s plans. The Apocryphal reading, Sirach, includes a similar message of keeping the commandments and, therefore, choosing life. The Psalm focuses on our “walk in the law of the Lord” as we keep the commandments to love God and our neighbors. Choosing life includes God’s call to care for people experiencing needs and to act justly. This builds a beloved community where God guides us to thrive, which God desires for God’s children.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses divisions in that beloved community. He contrasts his call with Apollos’s call. Paul explains that God assigned their calls—neither of which would have been fruitful without God giving the growth. Therefore, 1 Corinthians addresses the variety in God’s calls for our individual and congregational stewardship lives. Sometimes congregation members compare their unique stewardship calls for loving actions with God’s different calls to other members. Then, unfortunately, some members may become convinced that their unique call to action is the only “correct” way for the congregation to use God’s gifts for stewardship. This can create conflicts that interfere with stewardship that builds communities.
The “downstream versus upstream” analogy may address this conflict. In this analogy, folks downstream on a river continuously rescue people who are drowning. Eventually, someone decides to go upstream to identify and fix the problem causing people to end up in the river. Both calls to action—rescuing and fixing—are vital, just as God’s variety of stewardship calls can love our neighbors. In another analogy, God’s various stewardship calls or approaches are explained as giving fish (relief/donations), teaching fishing (training/education), standing aside at the pond (opportunity/access), or fixing the broken fishing bridge (advocacy/justice)—all with prayer for God’s growth. These analogies may help members follow their unique stewardship calls, support people whom God calls differently, and minimize divisions.
Consistent with Paul’s efforts to decrease divisions and build relationships, emphasis on accompaniment may help. Accompaniment focuses on mutual relationships fostered by acting or serving “with” people, rather than doing “for” or “to.” Sometimes, negative connotations occur when we only say “those” [in poverty]. We may unintentionally imply “them vs. us” divisions by referring to “others.” We can minimize conscious or unconscious biases by using “people,” “neighbors,” “folks,” “siblings” (non-binary, gender neutral), etc. to help humanize people, minimize divisions, and maintain the dignity of neighbors we seek to love more fully.
In Mathew, Jesus transitions from the law’s limited “don’t do” to the gospel’s expansive “to do” actions for loving God and our neighbors in ways that restore relationships. Jesus’ expansion of the Fifth, Sixth, and Second Commandments with Luther’s explanations in his Small Catechism (e.g., “help and support him in every physical need”) further clarify our stewardship calls to use our God-given gifts to love our neighbors.
In Matthew, Jesus addresses marriage relationships in comments about the Sixth Commandment, which Luther explains as, “love and honor.” Conversely, Super Bowls sometimes escalate domestic violence. Therefore, in the bulletin, consider including the National Domestic Violence Hotline information: 800-799-7233 (multilingual) and https://www.thehotline.org/.
Hymnary.org identifies Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymns relevant to these Scripture readings. These hymns include “Dearest Jesus, at Your Word” (Psalm 119:1-8); “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9); “Christ, Be Our Light” (1 Corinthians 3:9); and “Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive” (Matthew 5:21-24).
You might focus on 1 Corinthians using graphics. First, you could show two arrows, both labeled “Only One Approach,” and pointing in opposite directions to signify disagreements about stewardship approaches. Then, you might show four arrows. Label each one differently using: “Relief/Donations,” “Training/Education,” “Opportunity/Access,” and “Advocacy/Justice.” Orient all four arrows pointing to a central heart to signify that many approaches share love.
During the offertory, consider showing slides highlighting your stewardship ministries. You might label them: relief, training, opportunity, or advocacy—although these often overlap. The final slide might ask, “What are we missing?” or “What should we do more frequently?” Alternatively, a stewardship ministry representative could share a brief stewardship summary.
Consider using the following activity during a youth group. Ask the youth to read the Matthew verses about murder and Luther’s explanations of the Fifth Commandment in his Small Catechism. Invite their insights about Christ’s words and Luther’s explanations. Then, you might discuss the stewardship approaches of relief/donations, training/education, opportunity/access, and advocacy/justice. Emphasize the need for prayer in all stewardship. Ask the youth to share ways they can be stewards of their God-given resources, time, talents, and lives.
Have the youth divide into small groups or pairs. Encourage each group/pair to develop a proposal of one stewardship activity the large group could do to follow Christ’s words and/or Luther’s statement, “help and support [them] in every physical need.” Note the important opportunity to build relationships during mutual service. Have each group prepare a mini-poster and present their proposal to the large group. With the youth leaders’ guidance, determine by consensus which one or two stewardship activities they might do during 2023. Display the mini-posters where the congregation can view them. Share the one or two 2023 stewardship activity proposals during worship announcements or a brief presentation.
Also, consider asking for three volunteers to help with the children’s sermon during worship.
You might prepare this sharing demonstration. Obtain enough similar, child-safe items (e.g., coloring sheets, stickers, etc.) for the demonstration and to give each child two items. Before worship, meet with the three youth (or adult) volunteers. Give one volunteer two items, another volunteer one item, and one nothing. Also, give each volunteer a different prayer line about Jesus helping us share.
During children’s time, ask the children if it would be okay for the volunteer with two items to take the item from the volunteer with one. Prompt reasons this would be wrong. Ask what volunteers can do so everyone has one. Reinforce that sharing is better so everyone has something. Ask, “What do you think Jesus wants people to do?” Give each child two of the items. Ask them what they can do with their two items. Affirm they can share one. Have the volunteers lead prayer with the children repeating each line.
Alternatively, you could discuss with the children what happens when they don’t follow rules at home or school. Ask how other people respond when they disobey. Ask how this makes them feel. Encourage responses that it’s better to obey. Close with prayer for help to obey.
Mary Simonson Clark, a freelance writer and researcher, works as a field instructor in the Social Work Department of Augsburg University, Minneapolis, and as facilitator in Christian Education and Dismantling Racism courses at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.