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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources 

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany Year A, Colour = White (6th in Ordinary)


Introduction

In America in Tucson Arizona, a 40 year old US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head on Saturday at a public meeting. Six other people were killed in the attack and the gunman hit a total of 20 people. In the UK a member of Parliament Jo Cox was brutally mordered at her surgery.Such killings raise concern in the political arena and cause politicians to reflect that the toxic nature of political life had created an environment in which such murders take place. In her maiden speech Jo Cox said,

'While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

These are beautiful words but the more so because they are against the grain of the current rhetoric from politicians. Politicians use hurtful words and cruel campaigns which had created an environment in which murder could be seen as a consequence, even on politicians such as these who are peacemakers. This is exactly what Jesus telling people in the passage today. Our words have consequences and as such how we speak to people is important.

Jesus tells his followers today that if part of their body causes them to sin they should chop it off. Whilst we don't take these words literally, nevertheless we do understand that Jesus is using language to try and make people take his words seriously. Like many of the people who have heard these words I have never murdered anybody, but listening to the teachings of Jesus today there is no room for feeling I have achieved any great success. Jesus tells his followers that even when we are angry with one another we fall short, and all of us do that. The teachings of Jesus today raise the bar in terms of what he expects from us. He takes some basic sins as outlined in the Old Testament, like murder, and then looks at the feelings which give rise to them. The point is clear, we have to be careful about how we behave towards one another. Relationships go wrong a long toime before we commit murder, or adultery and Jesus wants us to deal with the problem before it gets out of control. Followers of Jesus must be careful about what goes on inside their heads, before it ever turns into action. What we see, think and say is just as important as physical actions themselves.

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 119 v 1

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Lord of the hosts of heaven, our salvation and our strength, without you we are lost: guard us from all that harms or hurts and raise us when we fall; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Almighty God, give us reverence for all creation and respect for every person, that we may mirror your likeness in Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

First Bible Reading Deuteronomy 30:15-20

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Second Reading  1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Teaching about angerGospel Reading Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Post Communion Prayer

Go before us, Lord, in all we do with your most gracious favour, and guide us with your continual help, that in all our works begun, continued and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name, and finally by your mercy receive everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

It’s about choice…
Jesus just finished the readings last week with saying that the believers’ righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  The prophets in the Old Testament often urged the Jews to see the world through God’s eyes and not ask God to see the world through theirs.  They emphasised the fact that faith is about participation in the work of God in our world and making His will and rule known.  For the Jews, this participation in the work of God is the ultimate fulfilment of the law.  The law was given so that it would enable the building of a people whose life together reflects the nature of God and makes that life and community engaging and attractive to others.  Having spoken about the Pharisees and the teachers of the law Jesus now goes on to reference some of their teaching, introducing it with the words, ‘You have heard it said…’.  He speaks about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths and later about an eye for an eye and loving ones enemies.

In the small tight knit communities of the first century adultery, divorce and broken oaths could tear the community apart and bring rifts between families that would last for years and ultimately result in bitter feuds and deaths.  Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience, who would be familiar with the teaching of the great Rabbi’s of the time, the conservative teaching of Shamai which recognised sexual misconduct on the woman’s part as the only reason for divorce, and the more progressive school of Hillel which allowed other reasons for separation.  It may well be that Jesus was commenting on these various schools of thought and religious belief.  But we need to read Jesus’ comments on topics such as adultery, divorce and the keeping and breaking of promises and oaths not just in the context of the different schools of rabbinic teaching, but more importantly in the context of His earlier discourse on reconciliation.  The focus for Jesus was on living out the lives God intended for us, as individuals and as a community of believers, united together through our faith and love for each other.  It’s not surprising then that Jesus speaks out against those things which could divide a community so bitterly and tear individual lives apart.

Implicit in the words of Christ are the words of Moses in Deuteronomy.  At the time Deuteronomy is written Israel are camped in the plains of Moab and about to enter the Promised Land and Moses is coming to the end of his life.  In his final appeal to Israel he tells how God is ready to forgive and restore all people, even those who have turned their back on Him.  But he turns back to a message that he has already introduced to the Israelites earlier.  There is a choice to be made; between life and death, between loving God and forsaking Him, between blessings or curses.  As the Israelites stand on the brink of taking possession of the land they have been promised in scripture they have to choose between obedience to God’s laws or going their own way.  Not surprisingly Moses urges them to choose life.  It was a choice they had to make.  For Moses the focus was on the Israelites living out the life God intended for them as individuals and as a community of believers.  That would involve decision and choice.

If we too are to live out the life God intended for us, as individuals and as a community, that too will involve choices and reconciliation.  Choices to walk in God’s ways as lived out by Jesus in the gospels, step by step, day by day. And reconciliation too, with those people and situations from which we have become divided in the past.  Paul urges the Corinthians not to be divided by quarrels and power struggles but to work together to bring about God’s Kingdom.  To be fellow workers together in participating in the work of God in the world and making His will and rule known to all.  A task which would constantly require them to make choices about how deeply they engaged with Him in His work and about who they would need to be reconciled with in order to avoid the petty but destructive divisions which could destroy the mission to which they were called and in which they chose and professed to be engaged.  Sound familiar? Sam Cappleman

Meditation

The logo of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa has next to it the words, ‘Truth, the road to reconciliation’.  Sometimes in order to be reconciled with someone we need to face and admit the truth of the situation before we can move on.  Jesus asks that we be reconciled to each other and to God through Him.  Sometimes that may involve facing truths which we have hidden or denied for many years and which now hold us back in our relationship with God and with each other.

Hymns

  1. For the healing of the nations
  2. In Christ there is no east or west
  3. O for a heart to praise my God
  4. Dear Lord and Father of mankind

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

As the beautiful, dew covered rose rises from amongst its thorns, so may my heart be so full of love for you my God, that I may rise above the storms and evils that assail me, and stand fast in trust and freedom of spirit.  Amen. Hadewijch of Brabant - 13th Century

Father God we pray that we would have the grace to be reconciled to you, in order that we can be reconciled to your world.  Amen
Almighty God, you sent your Son to proclaim your kingdom and to teach with authority. Anoint us with the power of your Spirit, that we, too, may bring good news to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captive; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

God of dawning light, hear our prayers today and give us the strength to put aside all cares and to chose to follow you in your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Christ the Son of Righteousness shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always.  Amen

 

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