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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources 

Second Sunday before Lent Year A


Introduction

It is a sad and simple fact that having more things doesn't make us more contented, or happy with life. we do not become less anxious with increaing possessions, indeed it is usually the other way around. The happiest people are the ones who have learned to appreciate what they have, rather than aspire to gain things which they have not. When a person dies we do not measure their worth by their bank balance, or by the accumulation of material wealth. Instead we recognise the importance of less tangible things, such as how they were regarded by those who knew them. The possessions which are remembere are those of character, not the usual earthly treasure. We could easily say that when our earthly bodies are dead, we are measured by those we leave behind in terms of spiritual values.

Jesus recognises the needs we have for survival such as clothes and food, but he tells his followers that the things of worth are not the sorts of stuff that most people devote their lives to acquiring. Lasting treasure belongs to God's kingdom and is not of this world. It is identified by qualities such as righteousness. Pursuit of these Godly things is to be encouraged, truth, justice, peace and love. By devotion to matters of lasting value, a life will not be wasted in frivolous pursuits.

Times have not changed since Jesus gave his teaching. People are still obsessed by material stuff like clothes and gathering up more than they need in a single life.

Opening Verse of Scripture Philippians 4:7

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

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

 

First Bible Reading Isaiah 49:8-16

This is what the LORD says: “In the time of my favour I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar— some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan]”
Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Second Reading  1 Corinthians 4

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Gospel Reading Matthew Chapter 6:25-34

Jesus taught his disciples, saying: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you— you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

Post Communion Prayer

God our creator, by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise, and the bread of life at the heart of your Church: may we who have been nourished at your table on earth be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s cross and enjoy the delights of eternity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

Jesus tells his followers that they cannot serve God and try to be wealthy in material goods at the same time. In Ancient Israel less than 10% of people had very much wealth. However these few were very wealthy indeed. They were aristocratic families, many of whom were of Greek or Roman background, who had received their property through military conquest--the plunder of war. These rich families were very rich, and constituted perhaps 2-3% of the people, at most. There was a big drop-off to the next level, which would have included the major tax collectors, and those who held high positions with the major landowners. The priests and scribes in Jerusalem, while not necessarily rich in terms of assets (though some were), nevertheless lived in palatial splendour. As the tax collectors were political oppressors, the priests and scribes were religious oppressors. The people caught it from both sides. Their political oppression was being supported by their religious leaders. Everybody else was poor and operated at a bare subsistence level. This calls into question most traditional interpretations, as if Jesus were giving poor people a lecture on how they ought to get better at handling their money. In fact, his listeners would likely have agreed with Jesus that "you are not able to serve God and mammon."
With the various taxes they paid approaching 50% of their already meagre income, they regarded their economic superiors as rapacious and obviously following mammon more than God. They didn't think too much of those who lived high at the peoples' expense, while the people themselves were near starvation.

These ten verses contain six injunctions not to worry. With "mammon" as our "treasure," we'll never have a moment's rest. We'll always be worrying about holding on to what we have or trying to get more.
The great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once defined anxiety as "the next day." We don't know what will happen "the next day," which creates anxiety this day. Therefore, we are consumed on this day with trying to anticipate future calamities against which to protect ourselves. Since there is no end to the calamities we can anticipate, we're always uncertain and constantly chasing after something which, we hope, will decrease our level of uncertainty. This never works. Acquiring things doesn't reduce anxiety. It generates anxiety. You buy some kind of insurance to protect you against some kind of risk, which means that you now have one more bill to worry about paying!
Discipleship frees us to trust in the only true Giver and Sustainer of life. The coming kingdom already shapes the present life of the disciple. His God grants a higher security even in the midst of his trials. Free from anxiety, the disciple is free from confused priorities: one's life and body are the main gifts from God; food and clothing are just means to an end.
Food and clothing are important. Jesus does not discount the peoples' needs. In fact, he says that their physical needs are known and understood by God: "For your heavenly Father knows that you need quite all of these." However Jesus goes further. Not only does he reject anxiety about wealth, he rejects the entire premises of the established market system. Not only can you not serve God and mammon, do not be bothered by the whole mechanism of getting things.
"For this reason, I say to you, do not be anxious for your life (psyche)." Psyche means "life" or "soul," or, even better, "the essence of life," or "true life." (We get our word "psychology" from psyche.) Despite your very real needs, true life is not about food, or drink, or clothes. True life comes first through the kingdom, the earthly application of which would mean food and clothing for everyone.

This has nothing to do with soothing the anxieties of affluence. It has nothing to do with counselling modern people to keep their obsession with wealth in better perspective and urging them to be better Christians in their application of it--not that that's a bad idea necessarily, only that Jesus has much bigger things on his mind than that. It has to do with disconnecting from a hierarchical system which generates anxiety and worry in the first place. The rich, currently on top, can't take it with them--nor perhaps even keep it while they're here.
Jesus mentions clothes because they were the outward mark of social rank. This is true today as well, of course, but it was really true then. The wealthy, including priests and scribes connected with the Temple establishment, were easily identified by their glitzzy robes. Jesus attacks fancy clothes more than once. In 11:8, he talks about "those who wear soft robes...in royal palaces." It wasn't a compliment there, and it isn't here either. This is a barbed reminder of the high social rank of their overlords.
The crops of the field are nourished by God, raised up in God's field--"how they grow"!--and gathered in to make daily bread for the life of the world. How much more you! Like the crops of the field, which God raises, processes and distributes, those who follow the way of the kingdom also lose their own life for the life of the world.

Then Jesus tells how the disciple is to live "But seek first the kingdom, and its justice, and all these things will be added to you." Dikaiosyne may be translated "righteousness" or "justice." Translating as "righteousness" sometimes means that we think in terms of personal morality. The context makes clear that Jesus' concern is more social justice than individual sanctity. Indeed, this is nearly always the case. This is an imperative that we ignore at our peril. There are several places in the Bible where God rejects the worship of his people because they lack justice (eg. Micah 6:6-8; 1 Tim. 6:9-10, 17; Matt. 6:19-21), but there is nowhere in the Bible where God rejects the justice of his people because they lack worship. Does this mean that social, political and economic justice are more important to God than worship? Possibly it does, what is most certainly does mean is that worship which doesn't grow out of justice is worth nothing.

Meditation

The 4 February was the birthday in Germany in 1906 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He became a minister in the Lutheran Church and was outspoken about what was wrong when the Nazis first came to power. He spent two years as a minister in a church in London, but chose to return to Germany once it became clear that war would break out. He wrote, “I will have no right to be a part of the reconstruction of Germany after the war if I do not share in this time with my people.”

Like many others, he must have had great courage, intending to do whatever he could to oppose the evil being done in the name of his country. He knew the risks for himself in remaining a critic of the Nazi government and, on his return to Germany, every move of his was watched.

In July 1944 a plot to kill Hitler failed. Bonhoeffer was one of many who was implicated in that threat, and he was imprisoned. Less than a month before Germany’s surrender he was taken into the prison yard and hanged, aged 39.

The prison doctor said of his death: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor in prayer. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so certain that God heard his prayer.”

Dietrich wrote this short prayer about love and hatred, and we can make the prayer our own today by thinking of those people with whom we haven’t get on very well over the years:

“Lord God, give me such love for you and for others that it will blot out all hatred and bitterness.”

Hymns

  1. Angel voices
  2. Seek ye first
  3. The Church’s one foundation
  4. Forth in thy name

 

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."

A call to worship. We come not because we are able by our own right, but because we know our need of God. We come not because we are able by our own deeds, but because we are summoned in God's love. We come in our need and hope. We come because of all that God has done. We come in thanksgiving.

A prayer for going out. Loving God as we go into your world in the power of your Spirit, help us to live justly and work for justice, to love and practise kindness and to walk humbly with You.

Father, all loving and most tender, we confess the hardness of our hearts and our want of compassion for our neighbour. Grant us the grace of true pity, the ministry of compassion and the gift of consoling the broken-hearted. Teach us to love with your own forbearance and never harshly or unlovingly to judge another; for your own mercies' sake. Amen Johann Arndt, 1555-1621

 

Additional Resources

Peter Pan fans will remember the scene in which the children have seen Peter fly, and they try to do the same. They fail of course until peter helps them by telling them to “Think lovely thoughts.” They do, and then they achieve what they thought was impossible - they fly! The story leaves us with the idea that we can do many things if only we “think lovely thoughts”, if only we “think positively” about things, “filling our minds” with good things.
In Philippians we find this teaching from St Paul who encourages the Christian community to fill their minds with good things. It echoes the words of Jesus from our reading today when he tells the disciples that they must not fill their minds with the wrong things like worries.


Philippians Chapter 4
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.