Feb. 12, 2023

Prayer of the Day

O God, the strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.


Deuteronomy 30:15-20

[Moses said to the people:] 15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If 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. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I 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. 19I 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, 20loving 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

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

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

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

Matthew 5:21-37

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But 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. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come 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. 26Truly 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.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If 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. 30And 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.’ 32But 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.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

Sermon: Pastor Meggan Manlove

I want to say at the top of my sermon that if your attention landed on those verses about divorce you are likely not alone. I will address those verses briefly but maybe not to everyone’s satisfaction, but I love theological conversations so please call me if you leave today feeling a bit unresolved about any of this.

As Jesus gets deeper into his Sermon on the Mount, his words today remind me of the first time I got a letter from the local regional hospital hospice while serving as a pastor in rural Iowa. A parishioner had been admitted and the letter went something like—at the end of this person’s life we want to care for the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. To that end, we are wrapping around the person with medical staff, pastor, social worker, family, and volunteers. Hospice knew how to care about the whole person.

As part of ushering in the kingdom of heaven, which actually comes to us in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is showing people again what it means to live in community. I say “again” because this is not new. God did something quite similar after he brought the Hebrew people out of Egypt and gave them the 10 Commandments. The commandments were a gift more than anything else. Because of our sinful nature, people need rules for how to live well together. They are the side bumpers that help us thrive. They are the mother telling us not to touch the hot stove. They are the speed limit and stop signs that help us navigate living in the world together. Collectively, good laws, whether civic or from God, have the goals of wellness and wholeness for the collective body.

Because of our sinful nature, it was never enough to say, “be nice to one another.” To return to the body image, think of the doctor who is with a patient who says, “I’m experiencing pain.” For a good doctor, that is not enough. A good doctor probes physically and with verbal questions until the source of the pain is found. The remedy must fit the condition. Likewise, the body of Christ needs specificity. 

Further, like the practice of medicine itself, as the world changes, as societies evolve, the law needs new interpretations. This is what Jesus does when he takes up adultery and divorce, already addressed in the Old Testament. Jesus’ teachings reinforce the dignity of women and warns against a culture of male privilege. We know today that there are other good reasons for both women and men to ask for divorce. And, to return to the goal for the collective, many of those divorces are good for the entire body, the entire community, even if they initially cause pain. 

Those of you who grew up memorizing Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, know that Luther followed Jesus’ example when he wrote his explanations to the Ten Commandments. It’s his Large Catechism that I want to lift up today, particularly his explanation of the Fourth Commandment, to honor mother and father, which is again about the collective body.

After writing several paragraphs about how children ought to treat their parents, Luther writes “In addition, it would also be well to preach to parents on the nature of their responsibility, how they should treat those whom they have been appointed to rule.” He argues later, “therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty—at the risk of losing divine grace—first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and, then, if they are so gifted, also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed.” Do you hear how Luther, in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, is interested in the wellness and wholeness of the entire body, the society, the beloved community.

I admit that the verses in our passage that I am most interested in for our own time are those about oath keeping. Jesus’ suggestion to let one’s “yes” be “yes” is essentially an encouragement to ensure that one’s spoken word is so authentic and so in line with one’s intentions that it is already above question just on its own, even without an additional strengthener. In other words, then, Jesus is calling for his audience to demonstrate the highest possible level of trustworthiness and integrity, not only in their dealings with other humans, but also in their dealings with God.

Oh that the Holy Spirit could come among us as at Pentecost and give us new rules for interacting with the internet. But seriously, what does the kingdom of God look like in the face of algorithms that are continuously connecting our data and then filling our feeds accordingly? I cannot, with complete confidence, draw a line from Matthew 5 to a new catechism for the Digital Information Age, but I think it’s something the church needs to consider, and I have these wonderings. 

First, the incarnation is at the center of our Christian faith. God came to earth and decided to live as a human being. The most obvious and faith inspired anecdote to the internet is to live an embodied life. It’s one reason I celebrate ten of our members being on retreat this weekend up in the mountains. Go on a walk, have coffee with a neighbor, hug your grandkids, fold your hands and pray to God, sing aloud in your home, in the car, during worship, feast on the Lord’s Supper. God made us embodied, and our bodies are truly remarkable. Live an embodied life.

That said, it’s hard for even the oldest or most technology resistant among us to avoid the internet. And even if we do, friends, neighbors, and relatives are impacted by the internet. We are all living in the Digital Information Age. And it has a huge impact on the concept of truth and information sharing.

So, know what’s going on and have some understanding for how it all works. People are living in different “fact world” described by a variety of narratives. If it feels like you and your neighbor have completely different understandings of what is going on in the world or community, you very well might. These often-conflicting narratives are reinforced by Computerized Recommendation Systems (algorithms) which encourage reactive responses. They reinforce a particular world view (no matter what it is). And these world views are one dimensional and lack any nuance. And, as someone said, know that when you go out to research something on the internet, the internet has already researched you. 

In a discussion about all this, a woman lamented that when she switched her newspaper subscription to an online subscription, she noticed how her reading patterns changed. The online subscription knew which headlines to feed her. Before, she would occasionally end up reading an interesting sports story, but now that doesn’t happen. I think you can still get some papers to send you an exact digital replica of the physical paper, but that may take an extra effort. What she was illustrating was how algorithms stifled her curiosity. She now has to be more intentional about nurturing and feeding her curiosity. 

What is in our power to respond to the algorithms, in addition to living an embodied life and nurturing curiosity? What response might help usher in Jesus’ reign in the Digital Information Age? Become aware of your own patterns of reactivity. Stay in relationship with those you disagree with, no one said reign of God work was easy. When you bump into resistance it may be that you are on the right track, though you may not be. Understand that other people may be living in a different “fact world” than you.

Nothing in this scripture passage says that we are going to, in this lifetime, create a world without sin, pain, or suffering. But we can ask for less violence, more actual truth, less retaliation, more generosity, more embodiment, more curiosity, and more true empathy.

Someone in my text study asked, where is the good news in any of this? I admit that it’s hard to hear much of God’s promises in this particular passage from Matthew. And yet, for those of us who know the whole story, it should be very clear that Jesus does not ask of us anything God does not do. For example, Jesus calls us to practice of nonretaliation because that is the form that God’s care of us took in his cross. In like manner we are to give more than we are asked to give, we are to give to those who beg, because that is the character of God. We are to be honest in relationships because God is honest with us.

But there is more good news, really. For the sake of this new collective body Jesus is forming, Jesus’ own body was broken on the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The sign of that body, which was given for us, and communion with it provide the disciples with the strength for [all] Jesus commands.”

Luther himself says the Lord’s Supper “is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses. But it has to suffer a great deal of opposition…. For times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment” (LC). So come to the feast as the Holy Spirit shapes us as the body of Christ.

Prayers of Intercession

Called together to follow Jesus, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Inspire your church that it may be a sign of life throughout the world. From the exploration of faith with children and new believers to missionaries and bishops, shape lives of faithfulness, so that all find abundant life in your ways. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Nourish your creation. Accompany all who plant and water. Bless the work of farmers; provide for subsistence farmers facing drought and climate change. Guide the work of agricultural scientists toward sustainable ways to feed the world. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Give growth where there seems to be no hope for life. In nations and regions where reconciliation seems impossible (especially), empower peacemakers with your Spirit. Where death holds sway through violence, disease, and hunger, equip relief workers to bring hope. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Nurture all in need (especially). Bring healing to all who experience trauma caused by systems of injustice and destructive relationships. Give courage to those struggling to repent and those seeking reconciliation. Sustain all who work for restoration (local restorative efforts may be named). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Encourage this congregation. Call us to a common purpose and keep us from quarrelling. Turn our hearts toward you and guide our leaders, so that our choices may be lifegiving for all. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Thanks be to you for the lives of all who have died in Christ. Teach us to follow them in your ways and gather us with them into the promise of eternal life with you. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We bring to you our needs and hopes, O God, trusting your wisdom and power revealed in Christ crucified.


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