Finding the Lessons

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Friday, February 25, 2011

8th Sunday after the Epiphnay, Ordinary Time, Year A

"If God so clothe - The word properly implies, the putting on a complete dress, that surrounds the body on all sides; and beautifully expresses that external membrane, which (like the skin in a human body) at once adorns the tender fabric of the vegetable, and guards it from the injuries of the weather. Every microscope in which a flower is viewed gives a lively comment on this text."
From Wesley's Notes.

Matthew 6:24-34
24“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25“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? 26Look 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? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But 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? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text

Textweek General Resources

Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from Matthew

Some interesting articles on this passage:

William Loader's "First Thoughts"

Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today

Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site
Prayer
From the mountain where his disciples gathered around him, O God, Provider for our every need, Jesus, your Son, the teacher of righteousness, calls us to forgo worry and anxiety and to seek first your kingdom and its righteousness.  Deliver us from striving after the false security of worldly wealth that we may entrust ourselves to you, the God who cares for us as a mother has compassion for the child of her womb. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your So, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever an ever.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts...
Daniel Harrington (NT scholar, author of Matthew, Sacra Pagina, p104) gives us a great birds eye view of the text we have been making our way through over the last few weeks in our lectionary cycle.  He writes: "The introduction (5:1-20) and the first two major parts (5:21-48; 6:1-18) of the Sermon on the Mount display clear structures: nine Beatitudes, six antitheses, and three acts of piety.  The third major part (6:19-7:12) has no obvious structure."

Jesus is in this section winding together pieces that are very similar to the books of wisdom and proverbs. They seem to be loosely connected in theme, they are very traditional pieces (Harrington shows most are from previous documents and sources), and they are rooted in Jewish tradition. (Harrington, Matthew, 109)

Each section is its own teaching; but keep in mind that the "golden rule" is offered by Jesus as the culmination and summation of discipleship behavior towards others.  I have broken the sections out below:

Visionary Focus and Mission:
v24“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Here Jesus' message seems clear, follow God, imitate the love of your father who is in heaven, and your path will be clear.  It is not that you will not have difficulty or that you will not have difficult decisions to make, but your measure and your rule will be that of your Father in Heaven who loves and cares unconditionally. We of course remember here Jesus words at the end of last weeks reading: "Be perfect as your Father is perfect...be merciful as your Father is merciful."
Anxiety and Fear:
v25“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? 26Look 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? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

v28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But 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? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
In this second section Jesus reminds us of the eternal truth expressed both by our ancient Hebrew faith ancestors and by Jesus himself: the God we proclaim is the creator of both heaven and earth.  Our Father who is in heaven, our God, is a God of providence who provides for all of creation and for his creatures.  God has created a sustainable universe.  Anxiety and fear only moves our vision away from God's vision for creation and Jesus' mission of restoration to a vision of personal caretaking. When we allow fear and anxiety to rule we move to a much more narcissistic place where the only one we serve is our ego.

Your Goals are different than the goals of those who do not follow Jesus:
32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

In this last section of this week's reading we are reminded that we choose to follow Jesus. We make Jesus' Father in heaven our God. We claim this God and acclaim his works in creation, providence, and the gift of both cross and resurrection that we by the power of the Holy Spirit may be once again at work in the world.  Be not afraid of comes, but live into the opportunity God has already laid out before us.

I am struck in our churches and our communities of faith how often we allow fear and anxiety to motivate our decisions.  We say in our culture that one is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately we have not only reversed that charge based upon cultural gossip but we have added to it the understanding there is more int he world to be afraid of than there is to embrace.

We are a culture of suspicion and distrust; and we project those feelings upon everyone and every situation.  There is always an alternative reason why, and a theory to be proved.  More often than not our culture believes the very worst in people.

The community of faithful people who follow Jesus are called to see God's providence and work in the world around us. We are to believe the very best in people. We are to see the opportunities before us as opportunities and blessings to embrace rather than fears of evil intentions to be exposed.  The Christian community is called into being on the sermon on the mount as a counter culture of belief in the very best of humanity.  When we follow Jesus we choose to accept our falleness, yet to believe through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that each person has within them goodness, compassion, and the light of Christ.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method

This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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