Posted by Emily Sanderson on Thursday, February 13, 2014
Readings for : Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Psalm 119:1-8,
1Corinthians 3: 1-9, Matthew 5: 21- 37
I don't know if you have noticed but for me the last few weeks the O.T.
reading, Psalm and Gospel have shared similar themes and the readings from 1
Corinthians do not seem to connect at all. Last Sunday I tried to connect
them all but it was stretching it. I think this is because we are reading
sequentially through 1 Corinthians and the lectionary is choosing the other
readings thematically. Although we are reading sequentially through Matthew.
But nevertheless this week there is a strong theme of obeying the law in all
of the readings except for 1 Corinthians.
Our first reading from Deuteronomy is an exciting moment . In comparison to
our previous readings from Isaiah and other prophets, we are transported to
an earlier and absolutely pivotal time in the history of Israel . The
people have been freed from slavery in Egypt, have traveled through the
wilderness where they received the Law, Moses is about to die and they are
going to enter the promise land. So our reading is Moses's last sermon to
the people he has served for so long and the instructions for living well in
the new adventure they are about to embark upon. God through Moses is
saying obey God's commandments but it is more than a legalistic obedience
but is meant to be in the context of a deep loving relationship. They are to
give their all to God and God desires to bless them. It is about choices and
the main chose they have is between life and death prosperity and adversity.
A good sermon might ponder what it means to choose life and how our choses
matter. I think you need to be careful to not be simplistic here. Scripture
attests to and we know from experience that sometimes the wicked prosper and
the righteous suffer but when you read through Deuteronomy you get a sense
that " When Moses looked back , he saw that life was best for the Israelites
when they were trying to please God." Feasting on The Word Year A Vol. 1 pg.
I often think of the comparison to building something complicated. If you
follow the instructions of the one who designed it you will have less
struggle and more harmony ( less kicking and screaming) than if you chose to
do it your way. It makes sense that if God is the designer of all creation
then if we follow God's instruction than if we go it alone or especially if
we go in direct opposition to God.
Our Psalm for is very similar. It begins with the statement of wisdom
that if we walk in the laws of God we will be happy and blameless. When you
look at the Psalm reading you can see how following God's law is not arduous
but rather to quote O.T. scholar Walter Brueggemann's, "A life full of
obedience is not a conclusion of faith. It is a beginning point and an
access to a life filled with many sided communion with God" Feasting on the
Word Year A vol. 1 pg. 345 You can see how the psalmist realizes that
following God requires ones whole heart and prays to be steadfast. Seeking
to follow God requires God's presence and grace "do not utterly forsake me"
and results in expressions of praise to God.
The Gospel reading for today consists of some very strong statements by
Jesus. Frankly I think they need a lot of consideration, more than I can
offer in these first thoughts. Jesus talks about some very sensitive
subjects that require a different format to be pastorally and theologically
sensitive. In conversation or in a well thought out sermon I ought to
address this passage but not here. So I will only comment on the theme of
law that we have already been considering.
We often think ( over simplified of course) that the law was bad or
deficient and that Christ has come to free us from the burdens of keeping
the law. Yes legalism of the sort where one keeps the law at the expense of
love is silly and Jesus made it clear for example that if in keeping the
Sabbath laws you do not heal a sick person then this is a problem. I
sometimes feel that a person can be so right they actually are wrong. But
we should consider in detail Paul's teaching on the law in light of Jesus
where we often mistakenly conclude that the law is bad and in fact I do not
think Paul makes this conclusion. And certainly our Gospel reading today
makes it clear that Jesus does not consider the law irrelevant but rather
transcends it. He really transcends it big time, for example by saying that
not only murder but also anger is law breaking, not only adultery but lust
as well. A good sermon could ponder what Jesus means by these and the other
very difficult teachings in this passage. And of course Jesus himself says
in the passage we had better think about it, think about it seriously and
act upon his teachings. We see ( in what I think is hyperbole) Jesus
repeatedly saying things like it would be better for a person to pluck out
an eye than go to hell with all your body. This is in reference to adultery
and lust but Jesus makes similar declarations for other laws he sights.
Quickly some thoughts on the Epistle. This passage is addressing rivalries
and quarrelling in the church at Corinth. Paul is trying to say that it is
not human leaders or wisdom that is important but the focus is to be on God.
Yes he says he planted and Apollos watered but it is God who gives the
growth. We are God's servants , we are God's building and so there is no
place for human rivalry or ego's . Stay on the high ground.
Interestingly this is the teaching of NCD. Congregations are to practice
Godly principals ( planting and watering) but hand over the growth to God's
power. I think we are trying to work on passionate spirituality, loving
relationships, gift based ministries and so on so it will be exciting to
pray for and to see how God gives the growth and makes us into a strong
building to use Paul's metaphor.
Interested as always in your thoughts. Looking forward to reading and
hearing these passages .