Prayers and Message for the sixth Sunday in Epiphany
February 12, 2017
Based on: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 and Matthew 5: 21-26
Opening Prayer: God, who invites us into ministries of teaching, healing, and leading together, give us devoted hearts that we might seek to listen more deeply, to think more fully, and respond more passionately to your call for our lives. Open us to your wisdom found in our stories from scripture and in our own hearts as we reflect together on your holy word for us this day. Amen
Have you ever been so angry at a friend or a loved one or a colleague or a situation or circumstance, that you had murderous thoughts?
Have you ever felt so misunderstood or frustrated that you wanted to kick the leg of your kitchen table, pound the countertop, or maybe even throw the newspaper at the neighbour’s yowling cat?
If so, then you have come to the right place this morning!
Here, is where we have a chance to reflect together on this very kind of intensity of relationship Jesus is talking about with all those gathered to listen to his continuing sermon on the mount.
Here, in the opening words of the reading from Matthew’s gospel today, we find Jesus making the link between the law of the covenant handed down by God through Moses to our own intense emotions that emerge in relationship and in community.
Here, we have Jesus reminding all those with ears to listen (and that includes us), that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfil it.
Here, in Part III of the sermon on the mount, we hear only the first of six antitheses that sounds like this: “You have heard it said to those of ancient times, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER” and whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. But, I say to you-if you are angry with a brother or a sister, here’s what you must do….”
and Jesus goes on from there to describe what we know as the ministry of reconciliation:
- the seeking to understand rather than to be right
- the offering of the proverbial olive branch rather than withholding favour or support or care
- the making of amends for the restoration of trust and relationship
- and the commitment to make that happen
Jesus offers these words of example for the living into the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
Knowing full well that his listeners will soon follow him down from the mountain top and into the arduous work of the building of God’s kingdom-the place where what matters more than who is right or who is wrong is the preservation of relationship in the context of community; the place where all are welcome, needed, loved, and invited into being accepted just as they are, he wants them to have some blueprints to guide their living.
Jesus’ formula for examining the spirit rather than the letter of the law is what the whole passage from this portion of the sermon on the mount addresses.
Though we are not looking further at the other five antitheses this morning, I commend them to your on going reading and reflection knowing that whenever two are more are gathered, some important rules of engagement are important tools needed to keep everyone feeling safe and welcome.
Whenever two are more are gathered so also there is usually trouble or conflict or, we might say the competing of two or more amazing and different ideas trying to share the same space.
Also, in just such kinds of safe communities as these, love, hope, new understanding, and new ideas and initiatives are born and take root.
To my way of thinking, such needed rules of engagement, ones that guide rather than restrict our behaviours is what Moses offers those gathered in community perched on the edge of the Promised Land we heard read in the thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy this morning.
The whole of the book of Deuteronomy is thought to serve a dual function in scripture. As it upholds the past for its listeners, it also anticipates the future.
Something like an Owners’ Manual of faith, the book of Deuteronomy helps its people stay safe in changing landscape of their circumstance.
Here in this morning’s reading, their life in exile is about to end.
As they move into the putting of flesh to the bones of their arrival home, Moses has a few words of wisdom to offer.
Knowing his leadership will soon end, I offer here my prayerful understanding of Moses’ farewell speech to the beloved ones, the ones with whom he has had so many experiences to date:
“Choose life and blessing, not death and adversity.” He says.
“Choose to apply these rules of engagement wisely in your living together.
Choose to love the Lord your God.
Choose to follow in God’s ways.
Choose to observe God’s ordinances.
The end result? YOU SHALL LIVE!
But, choose other Gods, be they Gods of jealousy, envy, or pride and
YOU SHALL DIE!
Choose to approach the work of being my people in relationship in a half hearted way, and YOU WILL PERISH!
Instead, I strongly encourage you to live fully and well.
Then my promise of long ago will make your life in this new place, a place of blessing and not of curse.
Further to that-The ancestors will cheer you and those yet to come will thank you.
In the name of your faith ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it will be so!”
These paraphrased words Moses offers this day are wise counsel for our own thinking about ministry initiatives, for we, too, find ourselves perched on the cusp of a new day, a new era unfolding in our midst with the impending building project.
That said, moving together in community, I am certain that angry feelings and possibly even murderous thoughts will arise!
After all, we do need to recognize that being called into the building of God’s vision of Shalom, God’s peaceable reign, the place where all are welcome, loved, and invited into being accepted just as they are is and will be no small challenge!
What will help keep us safe when the going gets rough?
We do have our foundational scripture from Micah 6 to guide our steps in the doing of justice, the loving of kindness, and the intention of walking humbly with God.
We do have our stories from scripture such as we have heard this morning.
We do have our own United Church of Canada Owner’s Manual to guide and keep us safe and, last but never least, we have each other.
With an emphasis on the spirit rather than the letter of the law, I am confident that God will be there to guide us each and every step of the way.
For all of this and more, let us pray: God, we know how hard it will be for us to cross over into the Promised Land. But, we remember how much you have blessed us over the decades of ministry here at Knox. You have blessed us with an abundance of ministry experience bringing breadth, depth, wisdom, and character to our self understanding.
Sometimes, our fears and worries predominate and we feel discouraged as we wonder if everyone will make it over the bumpy patches in the journey.
Sometimes we get lost in the labyrinth of details and lose sight of the goal.
In times such as these, give us confidence and hope to make the right choices and keep our focus on the bigger picture.
Help us to know the blessing of your abiding, compassionate, and grace-filled love fore each and every one of us in all the clean and tidy circumstances and in the messy and murky ones too.
Help us to bring all that we are and all that we might imagine becoming so as to embody your law of reconciliation and right relationship.
Help us lean into your promise to walk with us always in appreciation and memory of all we have been together and all we are striving to become.
In the name of our faith ancestors gone before, all those yet to come, and in the intentional building of your dream for our church and world, we pray, may it be so, amen.