6th Sunday after Epiphany

February 12, 2023

Lectionary Texts

In Deuteronomy 30.15-20 God sets before us a choice: God’s ways, which lead to life, and the world’s ways, which lead to death. God implores us to choose life.

Psalm 119.1-8
celebrates the life and power of living in faithfulness to God. (Each verse of this psalm speaks of God’s Word or law using a different metaphor: God’s ways, testimonies, precepts, commands, statutes…)

1 Corinthians 3.1-9 The apostle Paul is troubled to hear of divisions in the church in Corinth. He reminds them that it is God who creates and grows the church, not any individual. We are all God’s servants, God’s tools—we are God’s farm!

In Matthew 5.21-37 Jesus examines the laws of God not as legal requirements, but as guides to love. He addresses laws concerning murder (which he sees in terms of respect and reconciliation) adultery and divorce (in terms of what causes us to sin) and swearing oaths (about being true to our word).
       NOTE: From year to year the Epiphany season expands or contracts to make room for Lent and Easter, which follow the lunar calendar. This year the seventh and eighth Sundays after Epiphany are omitted. In the lectionary those weeks include some of Jesus’ central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, teachings crucial to Christian faith and practice. Since the lectionary omits them this year I encourage you to consider skipping the assigned reading this week (Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce) and substitute next week’s reading: Matthew 5. 38-48,regarding love of enemy. It’s really the beating heart of Jesus’ faith. If you do choose this route, you might also want to substitute next weeks Hebrew Bible reading as well: Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18, in which God sets out laws that protect the rights and well-being of the poor, and provide for integrity, compassion and justice in the community: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Preaching Thoughts

Jesus says, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” He is not denying, refuting or doing away with religious laws: he’s escalating them. He’s getting at the real heart of the law, which is not merely avoiding doing terrible things, but actually loving your neighbor—even those who hurt you. So when he talks about murder it’s not just about not killing, it’s about not diminishing another’s life in any way. The prohibition against adultery is not merely a matter of avoiding extra-martial sex, it’s about being faithful in every way.

What Jesus is asking us to do is to actually love people. Not use them, not try to get around them to some higher purpose, but to love them fully and deeply, with no other desire or agenda—not even to be right. Jesus asks us to care about the person, regardless of how they bear or project their pain, regardless of how they treat us. In an argument, Jesus invites us to stop trying to win, and instead just try to love them. Even if it’s really important that they get what we’re saying, Jesus says love them first, love them totally no matter what—then add in trying to get your point across, in a way that deepens your love for them.

The heart of all this is that our primary energy is love, and love supersedes all our other motivations, energies, loyalties and desires, including the desire to win out over our enemies. Jesus’ command to love always and only is the toughest of all, especially in situations of conflict, because we want to dilute our love with wanting to win or teach a lesson or get even, or divert our love entirely to protect ourselves and abandon the well-being of others. To love even our enemies requires the deepest continual self-examination, repentance and discipline.

Jesus asks us to love unconditionally. But, golly, we want to reserve at least a few conditions, don’t we? Jesus doesn’t give us room for that. So of course we fail. We fail miserably. We don’t always love our neighbor as ourselves; we don’t often love our enemies. Jesus’ escalation of the law seems overwhelming. “Be perfect, as God is perfect.” It’s too much! When we truly confront the serious requirement of the law, we feel like giving up. “Sorry, Jesus. I just can’t do that. Go find somebody else, somebody better then me to follow you. Sorry.”

When we really get honest and admit that sometimes I feel like that, that’s when Jesus comes. He comes and sits down next to me and says, “Hey. I love you.” “But I’m a miserable failure! I’m no good.” “I know. In fact, you’re worse than you think. But I love you.” And I begin to see how I expect Jesus to put conditions on his love, that since I’m a lousy disciple he must love me less. But he doesn’t buy that. He loves me unconditionally. And when I let that love flood into me, and fill me, it overflows. Then I see clearly: Of course I don’t have enough love. I don’t have any love at all. It’s all God’s love, flowing through me. It’s not mine. All I have to do is get myself out of the way and let God’s love flow through. Turns out I’m not the salt of the earth. I’m the saltshaker.

Call to Worship

Leader: God of all Creation, your beauty surrounds us.
All: We thank you.
Jesus, compassion of God, you reach out to the wounded and the abused.
We join you.
Holy Spirit, you give us love, wisdom and courage.
We open ourselves to your grace.
Shape us by your power as vessels of your mercy.

Leader: God of love, we are not alone.
All: We are one with all Creation, and we thank you.
You come to us in our neighbors, with love and blessing.
We are one in Christ, and we praise you.
You live in us, and your love binds us together.
In your Spirit we are one, and we serve you with gladness;
we worship you with joy. Alleluia!

Leader: God of Creation, we come in awe.
All: In wonder, we praise you.
Christ, our brother, our savior, we come in gratitude.
In joy, we thank you.
Holy Spirit, spirit of life, we come in humility.
In faith, we give ourselves to you.
Receive us, change our hearts, and give us in love to the world.
God of love, we are yours.

Leader: Beauty, you surround us.
All: Alleluia!
Love, you come to us.
Wonder, you stir in us.
God of light, we worship you. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of grace and mercy, you call us to love. Our hearts swirl with many feelings; our hands tremble with many fears and desires. Receive all our emotions, calm our wandering minds, and settle us in your love. Shape us with the gentle hands of your grace as vessels of your mercy, in the name and spirit of Christ. Amen.

God of truth, we hear it said there are things we should do and ought to do. But we long to know what you want us to do. We long to listen to your voice alone, and hear your Word, to know your desire for us. Speak to us. Teach us your will, and lead us in the path of your love. Give us Jesus, to show us your ways, and we will follow. Amen.

God of truth, we have heard your law, and we seek to be faithful. Our obedience falters; our understanding is weak. Speak to us and write your law on our hearts, that we might truly be faithful not in duty, but in love and joy. Amen.

God of life, your love is the sun in our darkness. May the light of your love dawn upon us, flood our hearts, and make us holy. Show us your Way, and lead us in your path, and we will shine with your love, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gentle and almighty God, the world is in turmoil and you call us to peace. The world is in conflict and you call us to love. The world is in pain, and you call us to healing. In the dark and chaos speak your Word of light. Our hearts are open. Fill us with your life. We pray in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, we open ourselves in honesty to God.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see what is in us that is loving,
and what is not loving.

God, we recall when we have been in harmony with you,
or with life, and we give thanks.
[silent prayer…]
We recall when we have been out of harmony, and we seek your grace.
[silent prayer…]
God of mercy, in Christ you have shown us your grace.
Forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
Silent prayer … the word of grace

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

As the roots of trees
gather water and food
so may our prayers sink deep into you,
O God of grace,
and fill us with your love.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

       In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, whose judgment is mercy, who created the light in all people, who looks upon us all with love.
       We follow Jesus, the Appointed One, who honored the sacred in all, even his enemies; who fed and healed, who taught the way of love, who sought to free the holy in each of us. He entered into the suffering of the world, and revealed God’s heart most clearly in his passion for our wholeness. For his resistance to injustice he was crucified; but he was raised from the dead.
       We live by the Holy Spirit, the love of God in us, empowering us with courage to love the world, to love through our anger and sorrow, to love at all costs, to do justice, and to work for the healing of the world in the name of Christ.

Spirit of love, rise up pure in us like a spring of water.
Fire of love, burn in us brightly, a beacon of mercy.
Furnace of love, burn away all other energies but the energy of love.
Courage of love, help us face our enemies with compassion.
Gratefulness of love, help us be faithful in all relationships.
God of love, breathe in us with every breath.

       God, our Heavenly Lover, we give ourselves to you—you who create all things, who love all things, who redeem all things.
       Christ, Compassion of God, Lover of our souls, we follow you. In love you healed and set people free, you fed the poor and raised up the downtrodden, and you taught us the way of love and nonviolence. Christ, you who died in love, whom God raised in love, you live among us still, and your love is the song in our hearts and the air we breathe. Your love is the judgment of the world, the measure of all things, and the salvation of our souls.
       Holy Spirit of love, you fill us and empower us to love all people in the name of Christ, to love our enemies and pray for those who oppose us, to join you in transforming the world by the power of love. As your Church, the Body of Christ, we devote ourselves to the Way of Compassion, the way of Christ; trusting in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection, and the mystery of eternal life, for the sake of the healing of this world that you love so much. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God of love we thank you,
for in love you create us and claim us as your Beloved.
In love you confront all that oppresses us and all people,
and in love you set us free.

Though we reject your love for us, and for others,
still you are faithful.
So, with all Creation, we sing your praise:

             [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
       Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
       heaven and earth are full of your glory.
       Hosanna in the highest.
       Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
       Hosanna in the highest.

              [or alternate]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who loved beyond all boundaries,
who included the rejected and blessed the broken,
who invited all to his table of grace.

For his generosity of love he was opposed;
he was scorned and crucified.
But you raised him from the dead,
and still he invites us to the table he shares
with all your Beloved of every tribe and tradition.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)*

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in love, in holy self-giving,
in union with Christ’s self-giving,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

            [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
       Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
       Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
       Christ will come again in glory.
            [—or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
fearless in love, inclusive in generosity,
and courageous in the face of opposition,
for the sake of the wholeness of the human family,
in the name and the company of Jesus.

              [Spoken or sung]

* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us. / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. ) You have promised us grace, and you have been true to your word, showering us with your blessing. You have been faithful to us, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. Send us now into the world, fed by your grace, trusting in your goodness, and radiant with your mercy, for the sake of the mending of the world, in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World       (Original song)
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using two or three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:]

Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Your Word, O God, is a light to our path; may we be steadfast and upright.
May we be faithful and reconciled, and true to our word.

When you belong to God you are light, no longer held in the dark night.
Live what is loving and true, my friends, as children of light.

When you belong to God you are light, no longer held in the dark night.
Live what is loving and true, my friends, as children of light.

Let your light shine in us, O God, to love even enemies humbly
Help us be perfectly loving, O God, as your love is perfect.

Eternal Life    (Original song)

This is how we will know eternal life:
we will love one another.
I lay down my life, all that is mine alone,
that we may be raised together.

We are not bound by any earthy thing
when our lives we surrender to God
whose love is eternal life,
and so we will love one another.

Fulfill Your Love In Me     (Original song)

Fulfill your love in me, O Loving Spirit,
fulfill your love in me, O Heart of Love.

Speak the name Beloved in my deepest soul.
Hold me in your heart, your gentle loving. (Refrain)

Heal me with your mercy and your tenderness.
Bring to life the grace in me to love you. (Refrain)

Give me grace to love my neighbor as myself,
freely, with the love with which you love me. (Refrain)

Love Only (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, may your deep love shine bright in my heart,
may it be always your love I impart.
In ease or conflict, your love be my stay,
as your Beloved, your love to convey.

When people scare me so I feel alone,
help me see they, too, have wounds of their own.
Help me surrender my sword and my shield,
love and love only by your grace to yield.

God, by your Spirit, fill me with your grace, to
love and to heal in each moment and place.
Love and love only, through conflict or strife,
sets us all free and gives healing and life.

O Christ, My Way   (Tune: The Water Is Wide/ Gift of Love)

O Christ, my truth, my life, my way,
I give my heart to you this day.
I give myself, yes all of me,
that where you are I too may be.

O Christ, my way, the path I take
is love alone, for your love’s sake.
O be my heart, my strength and nerve,
that I may love and bless and serve.

O Christ, my truth, in you I see
the God who dwells in you and me.
But God remains yet far above
until I live in humble love.

O Christ, my life, I give my heart,
for when in you I take my part
and share your love, your work and strife,
I share in full your risen life.

Open my heart (Tune: Open My Eyes)

Open my eyes that I may see everyone ‘round me lovingly,
shedding my labels, habits and fear, see with a heart that’s true and clear.
Patiently, God, may I behold each blessed life as it unfolds.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.

Open my ears and let me hear unspoken stories, unshed tears.
Help me to hear with love shining through stories that no one’s listened to.
Tenderly, God, help me to hold what is within each person’s soul.
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine.

Open my heart and grant me love, mercy for those I’m heedless of.
Help me to know each person I face as one you bless with gentle grace
Lovingly, God, please make me more mindful of those whom we ignore.
Open my heart, illumine me, spirit divine.

Steadfast Love       (Tune: This Is My father’s World)

O God of faithful love, in every time and land,
the human race with tender grace you hold in gentle hands.
So may we love as well, with gracious tenderness:
the love you give we too will live, and thus our faith confess.

To those who cause us hurt, when anger calls our name,
we show the face of loving grace, for you treat us the same.
O God, you know our flaws, yet you forgive and heal;
and may we so, to friend and foe, your steadfast love reveal.

Optional concluding blessing verse for the end of the service:
Now go in peace, my friends, with God’s deep love in you,
God’s gentleness, God’s will to bless in all you say and do.
Go forth in Christ to serve, go forth, beloved friends,
still bound in prayer and loving care until we meet again.

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