Sunday, February 23, 2020

Lent 1A Readings & Commentaries

The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Our first reading begins with the portion of the second creation story (2:4-25) in which ’adam (“the man”), having been given the gift of the garden, is commanded not to eat the fruit of one particular tree. The remainder of chapter 2 describes the creation of a partner for ’adam. Chapter 3 tells the story of what is commonly known as “the fall.” For ancient Israel, this was the source story for why we do not live in a perfect world, and the nature of humankind’s relationship with God, falling short of God’s will, and living in fear of God. The larger question in play in this story (and, subsequently, throughout the Scriptures) is:  How can we live in creation on God’s terms, and not simply in our own autonomy?

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm 32
Psalm 32 is known as one of the penitential psalms by Christians, but there is little of penitence found here. The theme is God’s propensity for forgiveness, which is as miraculous as the creation itself. For humankind, the emphasis is on truth-telling. St. Paul will use verses 1-2 in Romans (4:7-8) to emphasize divine mercy as the cause of forgiveness, not any human quality or response.

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
       and whose sin is put away!
2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
       and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
       because of my groaning all day long.
4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
       my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
       and did not conceal my guilt.
6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
       Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in
                            time of trouble; *
       when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8 You are my hiding-place;
    you preserve me from trouble; *
       you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you
                            should go; *
       I will guide you with my eye.
10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
       who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
       or else they will not stay near you.”
11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
       but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
       shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

2nd Reading:  Romans 5:12-19
This passage is in the middle of a long argument that began in the first chapter of Romans with the assertion that the gospel is that “The one who is righteous will live [and be saved] by faith” (1:16-17) and will end with the extraordinary statement, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). In chapter 3 Paul had made the case that all people are sinners, fallen short of God’s glory (3:22-23). Chapter 4 is a midrash on the story of Abraham, emphasizing his faith that was “reckoned to him as righteousness.” In chapter 5 Paul moves on to Adam. The argument in this passage is complex, but is basically this:  If Adam is the man after whom all sin, then Christ is his opposite, the man through whom all live. Grace has dominion for the followers of Christ.

5:12 Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 4:1-11
Our Gospel reading is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, following his baptism. The 40 days is surely meant to remind us of the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness. The temptation is to perform miracles, all of which would result in potentially good things (food, proof that Jesus is God’s Son and cannot suffer harm, and political control). Jesus will have none of it. Through his baptism and the forty days that precede the temptation he has discerned the shape of his ministry, and it is not what the devil is offering him. Notice the quoting of Scripture can be done for good or for ill. The devil quotes from Psalm 91 (v. 6), Jesus from Deuteronomy:  8:3 (v. 4), 6:16 (v.7), and 6:13 (v. 10).

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Ash Wednesday Readings & Commentaries

Where is your treasure?

Collect of the Day
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made, and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Joel is one of the later prophets, active after the return of the Babylonian exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. The purpose of his prophecy is to discern God’s will in a huge storm of locusts which has ravaged crops. He takes it as a call to the people to lament, a ritual expression of grief.  In chapter two the shofar sounds the alarm. The Day of the Lord is coming like that plague of locusts.  The people’s grief must become repentance, and Joel lists some practices of repentance in his day. However, he is also clear that those practices must be outward signs of an inward commitment. The final sentence is an appeal to God’s sense of honor and duty.

2:1Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—2a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. 12Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Or this

1st Reading:  Isaiah 58:1-12
The prophet is told to reveal to the people the incongruity between their lifestyle and the values they express in their worship.  The scene is a liturgical one, announced with the shofar.  After pointing out this incongruity, the Lord reveals what genuine fasting (and other spiritual practices) should result in:  the practice of justice and a turning away from oppression.  As we begin Lent, it is not only a good idea to deny one’s self something as an act of devotion, but to take on a practice of compassion and justice as well.

58:1Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Psalm 103:8-14
Psalm 103 is an expression of trust in the compassion and mercy of God.  God’s mercy covers not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the healing of infirmities. In a striking image, God is said to remove our sins “as far as the east is from the west.”  God’s infinite compassion comes from his remembrance that “we are but dust” (from Genesis 2:7).  On Ash Wednesday we are called to remember this as well.

8 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
14 For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

2nd Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10
In its context this passage is a summary of Paul’s defense of himself as an apostle.  This defense has been going on since the beginning of the letter.  Someone has challenged his authority and, more importantly, the content of his teaching.  He claims for himself, and all those who would follow Jesus, the ministry of reconciliation.  We are called to this ministry in all the suffering and the joy of our lives.  The catechism of The Book of Common Prayer teaches that reconciliation is the primary ministry of the church: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (p. 855).

5:20bSo we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 6:1 As we work together with Christ, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 16And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Last Sun after Epiphany A Readings & Commentaries

The Transfiguration of Jesus

The Collect of the Day
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain:  Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; though Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Exodus 24:12-18
In our first reading, Moses is summoned up the mountain to receive “the tablets of stone,” presumably the ten commandments. (This is clearly a separate tradition of the reception of the commandments from that found in Exodus 20). On the seventh day Moses has a theophany, a vision of God’s glory. Moses enters into that theophany and remains there forty days. Forty is a frequent number in the Bible used for a time of trial (there are at least 15 such biblical instances).

24:12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2
Psalm 2 is a royal psalm which proclaims the king as God’s son and anointed (messiah). The latter title is always used in the Old Testament of the present ruler, not a future one.

1  Why are the nations in an uproar? *
              Why do the people mutter empty threats?
2  Why do the kings rise up in revolt,
    and the princes plot together, *
              against the Lord and against his Anointed?
3  “Let us break their yoke,” they say; *
              “let us cast off their bonds from us.”
4  He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; *
              the Lord has them in derision.
5  Then he speaks to them in his wrath, *
              and his rage fills them with terror.
6  “I myself have set my king *
              upon my holy hill of Zion.”
7  Let me announce the decree of the Lord: *
              he said to me, “You are my Son;
              this day have I begotten you.
8  Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for
                                          your inheritance *
              and the ends of the earth for your possession.
9  You shall crush them with an iron rod *
              and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”
10  And now, you kings, be wise; *
              be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11  Submit to the Lord with fear, *
              and with trembling bow before him;
12  Lest he be angry and you perish; *
              for his wrath is quickly kindled.
13  Happy are they all *
              who take refuge in him!

Or this

Psalm 99
This psalm is an obvious one for Transfiguration Sunday.  It is a vision of the majesty of God, involving Moses, a mountain, and a cloud, all invoking a mysterious vision.
1  The Lord is King;
     let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2  The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3  Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4  “O mighty King, lover of justice,
     you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5  Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
     and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6  Moses and Aaron among his priests,
     and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7  He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8  “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9  Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
    and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

2nd Reading:  2 Peter 1:16-21
Our second reading references the story of the Transfiguration. It is the only place outside the Gospels which does so. The writer uses his witness of that incident to prove his trustworthiness in regard to the second coming of Christ. The prophetic witness is reliable. Scripture (the writer would have been referring to the Hebrew Scriptures) is not a matter of individual initiative or interpretation. Both rely on the Holy Spirit, working through the community of those who follow Jesus, understood in these early days of the church as the primary subject of the Hebrew Scriptures.

1:16 We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 17:1-9
Our Gospel reading is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. On the mountain with his inner circle, Jesus’ whole being undergoes transformation. The story follows some of the details of Exodus 24, but also echoes the story of Jesus’ baptism. The presence of Moses and Elijah testify to Jesus’ inheritance of the Hebrew tradition (the law and the prophets). Peter’s desire to build booths recalls the Feast of Booths, when Israel celebrated being led by God through the desert. “Tell no one until…” indicates that Jesus understands what has just happened in terms of what he expects to happen in Jerusalem.

17:1 Six days [after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God], Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are a available. Go to our website for more information.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epiphany 6A Readings & Commentaries

Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

The Collect of the Day
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you:  Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Sirach 15:15-20
Sirach (traditionally known as “Ecclesiasticus”) is a book of the Apocrypha, a set of books not considered Scripture by Jews, but included in the Old Testament by Roman Catholics. Anglicans read them “for example of life and instruction of manners,” yet not to be used in the establishment of any doctrine. Our passage today emphasizes human responsibility in obeying the commandments.  God does not cause sin.

15:15 If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. 16 He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. 17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. 18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; 19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. 20 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

Or this

1st Reading:  Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Chapters 29 & 30 of Deuteronomy are part of a covenant ceremony, wherein Moses is calling upon the people to commit themselves to the way of life about which he has expounded throughout the book. His final message is that living outside this covenant can only lead to death. The Israelites will need constantly to choose life by their obedience.

30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm 119:1-8
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses. It is an acrostic poem in which every eight verses begin with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see how the psalm is laid out in The Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 763). It is a psalm in the wisdom tradition, extolling the happiness of life lived under the law. Indeed, one characteristic of the psalm is that some synonym of the law is used in every verse.

1 Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Happy are they who observe his decrees *
and seek him with all their hearts!
3 Who never do any wrong, *
but always walk in his ways.
4 You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.
5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!
6 Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.
7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.
8 I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Paul is writing to a divided and conflicted community. The divisions have partially to do with factions loyal to one of their two early teachers, Paul and Apollos. Paul tells them the quarrel is a symptom of their immaturity in the faith. It is simply a matter of one person’s ministry following on another within the purposes of God.

3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 5:21-37
The Sermon on the Mount continues. Jesus has just declared that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Verses 21-48 then offer six examples of that fulfillment (we have four today). In some cases (murder and adultery), Jesus demands we go deeper into the desires of our hearts. In others (divorce, oaths) he does away with provisions that made some allowances. In bringing these sayings together, Matthew is trying to show that Jesus is the authoritative interpreter of the law. The exhortation to remove body parts that offend was never meant to be taken literally, but is Jesus’ use of hyperbole to make a point.

5:21 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.