12 February 2023
This week the Lectionary continues with the Sermon on the Mount, and with an examination of what true spirituality looks like. Here Jesus focuses on the heart as the place where true obedience and true righteousness happens, and from which a Christ-like life of grace and compassion flows.
May our worship capture and transform our hearts, so that we become true reflections of Christ in the world.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20: Moses offers the people a choice between life and death, challenging them to love and remain faithful to God and God’s commandments, and promising them prosperity and blessing if they do.
OR Sirach 15:15-20: Before each person are life and death, and each must choose which they will receive.
Psalm 119:1-8: Because a life of integrity is blessed, the psalmist pleads with God for the ability to live a life of obedience to God’s commands.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9: Factions among people of faith are a sign of immaturity. Paul calls the Corinthians to be mature and to recognise that those who serve God’s people are equal, and insignificant. It is God’s work in the believer to bring growth that matters.
Matthew 5:21-37: Continuing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that righteousness is not just about following externals, but is about what happens in the heart. He challenges his hearers to true integrity, goodness and compassion with regard to dealing with anger, lust, adultery, divorce and making promises (vows).
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Not surprisingly, there is a clear development this week from last week’s readings. The Old Testament passages, though, if looked at alone, can be misleading in the sense that they seem to indicate that obedience to God’s law is a guarantee of health, wealth and happiness. This is, of course, much the way the world was believed to work back when these passages were written, but we know that it’s a little more complex than this. It is this complexity that both Paul and Jesus try to engage in their teaching. For Paul it’s about growing into a spiritual maturity that no longer needs competitive factions to feel secure and “righteous”. Paul calls the Corinthians to recognise that all of God’s servants are just that – people doing a job for God’s reign. What is important is not aligning oneself with particular people, leaders or ideas, but following God’s constant work of growth into becoming a true Christ-follower. For Christ, faithful and true spirituality is not about ticking off a few laws in a box of obedience, but is doing the work of the heart, of checking the real impact of who we are and how this works out in what we do and in our relationships. It is embracing the quest to reflect God’s grace, God’s goodness and God’s integrity that is the heart of this week’s call. Law is easy, and does not transform. Living with a God-formed integrity of heart, speech and action is what truly saves.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
There are two ways to apply the theme this week. The first is to reflect on Paul’s ideas of factions, and Jesus’ call to reflect on how we treat each other. It takes only a few seconds to identify the many ways we separate ourselves in the world – nations war against nations; political parties slander and undermine each other; religions seek to kill one another’s followers; wealthy and poor seek to protect themselves from each other. The destruction brought about by this division is devastating. If we can begin to find our common humanity within, and begin to live, globally, from a Christ-like heart, we can begin to heal some of the damage we have done. The second is to focus the challenge on living our faith from the heart in a globally connected world. It is easy to do business in ways that are legal, but that nevertheless hurt poor farmers, factory workers or the environment. It is easy to lead nations or organisations in ways that are constitutionally and legally sanctioned, but that nevertheless serve only ourselves and leave others broken. It is easy to conduct ourselves as citizens of the world in ways that are lawful, but that bring great harm to people in other parts of the world – or even our own neighbourhood. Christ’s challenge is to refuse to allow ourselves to live only according to the low standard of law, but to go beyond it to living from the heart – serving, seeking justice, offering welcome and compassion, protecting the vulnerable and preserving our rich ecological heritage on the planet. There is no question, though, that to adopt Christ’s heart-driven life is going to be painful and difficult. It will also open the doors to life for us and others, though.
It is all too easy to build our lives and our churches on programs – easy sets of rules and laws that guide what we do, but that have little connection with our real, heart-felt, lives or what’s going on in the world around us. It is easy to go to church on Sunday and sing songs and pray prayers. It is easy to not steal, not kill, not commit adultery. But, simply obeying these laws does not bring life to us or to those around us. It is when we allow God to capture our hearts with the truth of the Gospel, when we allow God to continually and disturbingly challenge and grow our hearts, when we live from the inside out, ensuring that our hearts are filled with Christ’s love and are right with God and others, and allow that to guide our speech and actions – then we become those who make a healing, restoring impact on the world around us, and who both find, and bring to others, fullness of life. This living from the heart takes far more work, and far more awareness than legalism. It requires us to allow God to constantly challenge our attitudes and convictions, to constantly transform our feelings and reactions and to constantly call us to a higher standard. In this way of living we cannot rest in a future guarantee of heaven after we die. We are called to work to be citizens of heaven now, and to actively bring heaven into our world and our lives through submitting to God’s gracious transforming guidance. But one thing is sure. If we are courageous enough to embark on the journey of heart-driven living, we will discover a richness and a fullness to life, a deeper connectedness and a more gracious way of relating and living together. In this sense the Old Testament writers are correct – following God’s ways does guarantee life for us.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Law And Love
O For A Heart To Praise My God
Be Thou My Vision
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Jesus Calls Us! O’er The Tumult
Dear Jesus In Whose Life I See
What Can I Do (Link to YouTube video)
Love Enough (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy of Compassion
Worship Can Wait