Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12); Psalm 112:1-9 (10); 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16); Matthew 5:13-20
Narrative Lectionary: The Golden Rule, Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29 (Psalm 37:16-18)
The people had returned from exile in Babylon, but God was not pleased that they had also returned to their old ways. In Isaiah 58:1-9a, God, through the prophet, calls out the people’s hypocrisy. They continue to seek God as if they have done nothing wrong, as if they have always remained close to God. They are going through the motions of fasting and praying, but their actions continue to show violence and oppression. Their fasting and practices of humility don’t mean anything when they are still oppressing one another. Instead, God calls for a different kind of fast, one in which food is shared with those in need, the bonds of oppression are broken and released. When the people practice that kind of fast and call out to God, God will respond. In 9b-12, God further instructs that if they cease their wicked ways of blaming and shaming and instead feed the hungry and meet the needs of those around them, God will provide for them and they will have an abundance, like a freshly watered garden. They will rebuild the ancient ruins, and they will be known for their work of reparation and restoration.
Psalm 112:1-9 is a song of blessing for those who are faithful to God’s ways. They will always have an abundance to share out of generosity and their future generations will know their blessings. They fear no evil and stay firm in God’s ways. The faithful are secure in God, and their righteousness endures forever, for they act with justice and give freely to those in need. Verse 10 shows that those who are angry and desire the things that others have are wicked, and will “gnash their teeth.” In other words, they will know the pang of loss because they can only perceive what they do not have.
The Epistle reading continues its series in 1 Corinthians, moving to chapter two. In verses 1-12, Paul shares how when he first came to the church in Corinth, he came out of humility. It was the Spirit that convinced them of Christ, not his own words—he only came to make known Jesus Christ, and that he was crucified. Faith must not rely on human wisdom, but on the power of God. It is the Spirit of God that makes God known, not their own words, for it is the Spirit that reveals. Verses 13-16 explain that those who do not have the Spirit do not understand the spiritual gifts of God. Those who are spiritual have the mind of Christ, and are the ones instructed to teach others. Paul’s main argument is that the Corinthians are still arguing over who is greatest using the wisdom and understanding of the world, instead of seeking the mind of Christ to discern the gifts of God.
The Gospel lesson continues the Sermon on the Mount, which was part of the Narrative Lectionary selection on January 22nd. Jesus continues to teach the disciples and the crowds. Be the salt of the earth—be foundational, needed to others. Be the light of the world so that all people can see what God is doing in your life. Jesus concludes this section by sharing that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. They are to keep and hold the commandments, all of the teachings of the Torah and prophets before them—in essence, the entire Bible that they knew. They needed to be even greater in righteousness than their current teachers. Striving for the reign of God, to live rightly before God, is a way of life.
The Narrative Lectionary concludes Jesus’s teachings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29. Verses 1-5 teach that we ought not to judge one another, because we judge others much more harshly than we judge ourselves, and our own ways of judging others clouds our perception. Verse 6 reminds the listeners that what God has given them is holy, and to direct their lives to God rather than throwing it away on things of this world. Verses 7-12 teach that we are to seek God first and foremost, and God will provide for us. We must treat others the way we would want to be treated (the Golden Rule), for this is what all of Scripture teaches. And in verses 13-14, stick to the path of God, the way of Christ, because so many are led astray through the gates of wealth and power and notoriety—even if they never gain those things. But the way of Christ leads into eternity with God, something we all can gain. In verses 24-29, Jesus concludes his sermon with a reminder to build their lives on the solid foundation of God and God’s ways, and not the ways of this world. The crowds were amazed because Jesus taught them as one with authority. He didn’t question or argue, he said, “This is the way.”
The supplementary verses of Psalm 37:16-18 speaks of the wisdom of pursuing righteousness over wealth, for God is with the righteous, and their faithfulness will endure forever. The ones that pursue worldly measures of success may find wealth, but also brokenness.
What does it mean to live in righteousness? We often think of this word as right-living: doing the right thing. Following God’s commandments. Seeking God in all we say and do. But the word righteousness comes from the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, actions that come out of compassionate kindness. Following the commandments is about our love for God and one another, not a ticket into heaven. It is about a change of heart and lives, not a formula for success. Too often, like the church in Corinth, we are caught up in the world’s wisdom, which is foolishness. It seeks personal gain: power, wealth, and notoriety. The foolishness of the world makes us want to be better than others, to have more than others, to fear what we do not have. But the wisdom of God has us put on the mind of Christ. To seek God in all we say and do. To love one another. To care for the needs of those around us. To work for justice and end oppression. The paths of this world are many, but the gates are often unreachable except for a few, and even then, what have they gained but all the wealth and power of the world through oppression and violence against others. The path of Chris is narrow and difficult, but it is the one we are called to pursue: the path of love.
Call to Worship
The world we made cries out, “Invest! Spend! Save yourself!”
The way of God teaches us to love, care, and serve.
The world we made shouts, “Protect! Secure! Close off!”
The way of God teaches us to share, lend, and provide.
The world we made threatens, “Be afraid! Be jealous! Want more!”
The way of God teaches us to be in awe, to have compassion, to be selfless.
The world we made lies to us about what is most important,
But God requires us to do justice, love mercy, and live in humbleness.
May we turn away from the distractions of the world we made;
May we listen to God, who calls us to care for the earth, to love one another,
And serve Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Voice over the Deep, You spoke, and there was light. You spoke, and there was water. You spoke, and there was earth. You spoke, and we, and all of creation, were made. We confess the voices of this world we made tempt us away, sometimes unconsciously, until we suddenly wake up and realize we have followed the voice of fear, the temptation of wealth, and the pursuit of power. Call us back tenderly, O Loving God. Lead us in Your paths, O Holy Spirit. Guide us, O Faithful One, through the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, of Your Loving Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
God’s steadfast love endures forever, and the same voice over the waters of creation calls to us throughout eternity. There is no place where we can be hidden, no depth where we cannot be drawn out of, no shadows or bleakness where light cannot shine. God loves you so much, and desires for you to have an abundant life, a life that helps others. May we live into Christ’s ways and work to end oppression and injustice, so all may be loved by one another, and know God’s love in this world. Go with this wisdom and insight that God loves you, and loves us all. Amen.
Spirit of Life, guide us into practices that draw us closer to You, rather than the ways of this world. Teach us how to pray. Teach us how to seek You. Lead us into the ways of justice and mercy. Call us into times of reflection and speak to us in the ways that help us follow You. May we not spend only one hour a week, but every moment, every breath, in gratitude for You, our Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Guide us on this journey of faith and life. Amen.