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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. CW

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

First Bible Reading Genesis 1:1-2:3

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. NRSV

Second Reading Romans 8:18-25

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. NRSV

Gospel Reading Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 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. CW

Commentary

There is a balance in the gospel reading between what God promises and what God asks. Jesus is clear on what God will provide and the reassurance He has for the early believers. He’s also equally clear on what is being asked of them, to give up their small ambitions and limited security for something that is far more radical, adventurous and eternal. Jesus invites us to share in something quite new and different, just as God in Genesis completes creation and then generously invites us to share it with Him, Jesus too invites us to come and share as He redeems creation and makes all things new. We’re invited to share in His joy and His excitement.
Paul picks this up in his epistle as he describes how creation is groaning as it waits for the fulfilment and redemption of the world. Jane Williams has expressed this as, ‘…in Romans we see the whole of the rest of creation waiting in agonised longing for human beings to catch up with the plot…’ . A plot which Matthew the gospel writer makes plain, the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth.

We are called to look around and see for ourselves the revelation of this Kingdom as it unfolds before our very eyes. We are invited to be part of the Kingdom and to share in it, as God continues to share His creation with all people. We are challenged to live our lives in a way which truly reveals the God in whose image we are created, so that others can come to know God and His eternal plan for each one of us and the world as it continues to evolve and grow. We are to be part of His flourishing creation, cared for and nurtured by each one of us. This is, at least in part, what each one of us was created for. As we read the stories of creation and see humankind as what would seem to be its climax and culmination it’s easy to fall into the same trap as the Israelites did, to think and assume it’s all about us. Israel’s task was no less than to be the light of the world, to redeem it from its broken and fallen ways, to reflect God, His glory and His love in the world. In that sense our task is the same as theirs. As we come to realise this is the task for which we are created the so called securities and seductions of the world become less important and we begin to find our true freedom as we truly see first the Kingdom of God. We, like creation, will be restless until we find our rest in God through the revelation of His image and Kingdom in our lives.

It has been said that the people Jesus is addressing on the Sermon on the Mount, from which today’s reading comes, are very much like ourselves. They are a mix of people who whilst not so well off that they are completely cushioned from the needs of everyday life, neither are they completely destitute and without possessions or means of income. Jesus’ words to them are no less of a challenge than they are to us. In that sense it would be no easier for them to hear and obey the words of Jesus than it is for us. It’s not as if hearing the words 2000 years ago made them any easier to listen to or any less challenging. As we know, some chose to hear and respond, and the world would change as a result of their words and actions. We also must assume that some found the words of Jesus too hard to listen to and to act on and went their own ways. His words were for others they thought, someone else could act on them, take them seriously and change their lives but not themselves. But God invites all to share in His Kingdom, not just a select few, not just those who, like the Israelites, thought it was for them. Like all of God’s invitations it is just that, and invitation. But like all of God’s invitations, there are implications of declining. Declining means that His light shines a little less brightly in our lives and in our world. Declining means that creation itself is a little more neglected. Declining means that others see the radiance and image of God less clearly. Declining God’s invitation to be part of His kingdom and the redemption of His creation can mean that we slip into thinking the world is created for us, rather than we are created as a critical part of the world. As we head towards Lent, a time of reflection and perhaps a time of spending a little more time in prayer and study, God continues to invite us to play our full part in His creation, to seek His Kingdom above all else, that we may know the full joy and exhilaration of being part of His created wonder. Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation

One of the Eucharistic Prayers in Common Worship picks up the theme of creation in its opening phrases. It starts, ‘Blessed are you, Lord God, our light and our salvation; to you be glory and praise for ever. From the beginning you have created all things and all your works echo the silent music of your praise. In the fullness of time you made us in your image, the crown of all creation.’ Common Worship Eucharist Prayer G. Sometimes we can become so familiar with passages of the bible it’s easy to skim over them and miss their full depth and significance. The beginning of Genesis is one of those passages. We can slip into the shorthand of thinking there were six days of creation and then on the seventh day God took a rest. But to do so misses the magnificent unfolding of creation as the earth is formed, day and night come into being and the dry ground and the waters are separated. Creatures appear on earth and humankind is born as the culmination of the story of creation. We see creation and evolution itself unfold, in a literal sense, as we read through the first chapter of Genesis. Sometimes too, in the somewhat binary interpretations of Genesis which are common we can miss what seems to be the culmination of this account of creation, the crescendo to which the chapter builds. God makes us, men and women, in His image. In that sense we are not some random assortment of body parts and organs, body parts and organs that often seem to malfunction as we get older. We are far more than this, we are creatures who are the culmination of God’s creative intervention in the world and made after His own image as we reflect His likeness. People who God invites to share with Him in His creation. If people want to know what God looks like, they look at us, those who are created in His image. For some, as they look out onto the world with all its conflicts and disunity, they are not sure they like what they see. What do people see when they look on us? Do they see us as a people who truly reflect the image of the God who create them? Do they see and hear a people who echo the silent music of your praise?

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

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

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.

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.”

 


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.