Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Life and Death –– Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany –– 12 February 2017

Jesus’ call to his followers to be visible signs of righteousness continues in this week’s portion of the Sermon on the Mount. This righteousness is to be lived in a community that seeks to fulfill the law and the prophets because Jesus himself fulfills them in his incarnation and makes our embodiment of them possible.

Matthew 5:21-37
After Jesus proclaims that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (5:17), he begins a series of teachings which contrast what his followers have heard about a commandment combined with his own intensification of it: “you have heard it said/but I say to you.” 

So the commandment not to murder becomes a teaching that anger, insult, and failure to reconcile are just as damaging to communal relationships as murder itself. The commandment not to commit adultery becomes a teaching that lust in itself is a violation of faithfulness that erodes trust in marital relationships. The commandment regarding divorce becomes a teaching that while divorce may be legal, the men initiating it must heed the economic and social consequences for the women who are abandoned. And the commandment against swearing falsely becomes a teaching about the way that oaths often presume lies when, instead, our “yes and no” should suffice as commitments of trust and fidelity.

The point is not that the commandments themselves are not sufficient, but that we are not only called to avoid certain acts and behaviors, but more deeply to embody the commandments.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Before the entry into the land of Israel, Moses reminds the people that the commandments are a social contract meant to shape a community that is just, compassionate, and righteous. Following the commandments is a choice between life and death, prosperity and adversity. 

We should not think of adversity as sent specifically by God, as much as it is the outcome of a way of life lived outside of covenant with God and one another. The commandments are the ways of life which lead to human flourishing and the good of all creation.

I Corinthians 3:1-9

The Apostle Paul addresses a Corinthian congregation struggling with the demands of living in community. In short, Paul asserts that their jealousy, quarreling, and factions are signs that they still have growing to do—they are not yet spiritual people, but infants in Christ. 

A sign of a maturing congregation is the ability to work together as God’s servants, without concern for who has planted or who has watered, but only for “God who gives the growth” (3:7).

Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke, Ph.D., is President of The Liturgical Conference, Senior Pastor of First Congregational Church UCC, Wilmette, Illinois, and affiliate faculty in Christian History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois.

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