ANNOUNCEMENTS --- Session will meet after worship and fellowship time today.
Fellowship Time! Mark your calendars. Pastor Joyce will share a few photos and experiences from her trip to Iceland on Sunday, February 26, following worship. A fellowship lunch will also be provided. Invite a friend, and put in your RSVP on the sheet beside the Administrative Office.
Funeral Lunches. Please add your name to the list of people who can help serve, assuming you are available, for funeral lunches as the need arises in the future.
PRAYER REQUESTS Please hold the following in your prayers.
Betty Farwell who struggles with health problems.
Arlene Pawlik who is recovering from a broken leg.
Those who are on hospice: Joan Pinkston, Maxine Wagner.
CALL TO WORSHIP
L: God sets before us life and prosperity, as well as death and adversity.
P: Let us choose life, obeying the commands of the Lord our God.
L: May we love the Lord.
P: May we seek to walk in his ways and observe his commandments.
L: We choose God. We choose life--
P: Not only for ourselves, but that we might bring God’s blessings to all the
We are the fields of God. We are the building of our Lord. We are the work of the Spirit who calls us to grow in God’s love. Help us Lord, God to sprout new leaves this morning, to set new cornerstones, to see new hope blooming in our relationship with you and with our brothers and sisters. Amen
HYMN Morning Has Broken #469
CALL TO CONFESSION
We are a people who see the world through eyes of “ME!” God offers us a lens that expands that view, but before we can access such vision, we must recognize and claim our own failings. Let us come together to name our shortcomings so we can be washed clean and know the grace of our God.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious Lord. You offer us life and healing, hope and possibilities, but too often we cling to a simplified gospel that requires very little of us. We nurse feelings of anger and resentment that diminishes our neighbor. We look upon others as the means to satisfy our own desires as we fail to consider what they might need. We make promises in your name that are not fulfilled. Forgive us these things and help us to be more loving and more filled with your grace. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Happy are those who seek God with their whole heart. God’s Spirit leads us on this quest and God’s Son gives us the tools for the journey. In the love of Jesus Christ, we know ourselves forgiven and called forward to be a people of hope.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
(Please greet those around you with these words. But let’s refrain from touch.)
L: May the peace of Christ be with you.
P: And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
We come, O Lord, seeking our own promised land. We open hearts and minds hoping to hear your wisdom and love that will help us to make sense of our world. May your word sink in and allow us to claim our place within your design. Amen.
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Matthew 5: 21-37
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not 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 tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
SERMON: Choosing Life!
Don’t we all want simple and easy solutions to our problems. How often do we click on the article that says “Ten Easy Ways to Lose Weight Before Summer”, or “Sleep better Strategies that Work.”? How about “How to Reduce the Risk of Dementia.” or “Create a Wealth Plan to Carry You Through Retirement”? Maybe “Steps to Strengthen Your Marriage.” Just give us simple steps, or at least do-able strategies, and let us go. And if we can use one or two of these to be healthy, secure and happy, what more can we hope for?
In many ways both of our scriptures for today offer these hoped for results. It might not be as simple as “10 easy steps.” Some of what is asked will not be simple at all, and along the way there will be different variables to consider to keep us on track. There will be some fear involved because some of the words that God sends to us might go against cultural norms or even what seems like good sense in the moment. But we are assured that God will walk with us and help us. If we can follow these commands, good things will rise up in our lives. Sound good? Let’s take a look.
Moses had led those ex-slaves through the wilderness. They have been cared for like children who receive all they need, even if not all they want, from Mom and Dad. Food and water, protection from enemies who inhabited the land through which they travelled. They were protected from wild animals, even poisonous snakes. Their shoes had not worn out. Imagine wearing the same shoes for 40 years, moving through rough terrain!
But now a new day is upon them. Right over there, across that river is the land that God promised to Abraham. It’s the land of milk and honey, the home they have dreamed of. They will plant gardens and vineyards. They will build houses and cities. They will know the fullness of all that has been promised by God.
But in the midst of this joyful anticipation there’s a danger, one thing that will blow up the whole thing like a cherry bomb in a mail box. They have to remember who their God is and what God has commanded of them. They have to hold tight to God’s design for their lives and their communities.
That might sound like a no-brainer. “Of course, of course,” they might say. But God knew that once they entered this land, a place where the current residents worshipped other gods, gods who didn’t ask so much of them, gods who were carved out of wood or fashioned from metals, gods who could be manipulated and controlled, that such gods might seem like a better option.
So on this occasion, with the Promised Land in view, Moses gathered them together, and God laid out a path for them—2 paths, in fact. One was the path towards life and wellness, towards peace and contentment. The other was the path towards death and adversity, pain and conflict. Now they were asked to choose. Once they chose—hopefully the path of God, they would need to stay on that path—to diligently work the rules and decrees that God had handed down.
It’s not exactly as simple as 10 easy steps, but it offered to Israel a framework for decision making at each step along the way. Unfortunately, they often lost sight of the path that God laid out for them. They often forgot how to keep God’s word front and center and to obey the hard parts. They too often chose easier paths or allowed their emotions and self-interest to lead them astray. It was just more attractive, or in many cases they hadn’t even realized they were straying from God’s word.
Jesus stepped into the spotlight about 2,000 years later. God sent his son as a refresher course. God realized that many had gotten lost in the intervening years. Jesus was going to try to bring them back to the path of God’s good design.
The people had lived a mixed bag. Some good things were happening, some not-so-good. Now Jesus would bring, not just a reminder of what had been asked of them so long ago, but new tools for living that path. He came with a spotlight to shine on the path God had set before them. He came to offer the gift of the Holy Spirit. He came to take our sins upon himself so we could better walk in God’s design.
Already in Matthew’s gospel we’ve seen the light Jesus trained on them. What does it mean to be blessed in God’s design? How are we to be the agents of salt and light for a world in need?
Today’s scripture focuses yet a bit more tightly. It takes in four scenarios of everyday relationships and invites us to see them through the eyes of God.
“You have heard it said….but I say.” That’s the formula. What we’ve been doing and the better plan. Anger, lust, divorce and oaths are on the agenda. Let’s take a look.
We all know the prohibition against murder. DON’T! Just don’t and we all pat ourselves on the back because we’ve not fallen into THAT sin. But Jesus wants us to consider one of the ways that can lead to the taking of a life—both literally, or in ways that we murder a person’s well-being and dignity and self-esteem. Those are a different kind of murder.
Anger is often the culprit. He does something to hurt us. She says something to disrespect us. It’s so outrageous, so aimed to hurt or belittle or accuse, and we respond. It’s almost a knee jerk reaction. Of course that just escalates things and pretty soon even harsher words or actions—maybe even knives, guns, a vicious shove or fist that flies. Someone is left lying on the floor or headed to the emergency room, or maybe just in tears from the emotional pain inflicted, and we all know that such wounds can also be mortal.
Anger leads to murder in many different ways.
Did you know that you CAN decide to NOT be angry? You can. What you tell yourself is the key. So often our self- message is “How dare he!” “She did that on purpose.” He is trying to take advantage of me.” “She obviously doesn’t care about me.” All of that leads to anger and retaliation.
But what happens if our message to ourselves is “She didn’t mean it that way.” Or he’s really having a bad day and I stepped in the middle of it.”? What happens if we say to ourselves, “That was a misunderstanding!” or even, “I don’t know what that was all about, but before I make assumptions, I’m going to talk with him or her about what just happened here.” We might decide that WE had said or done something that they interpreted in a negative way. Maybe we say, “I’m just plain going to let that one go. It’s not worth getting angry about.
We can choose NOT to be angry by how we view a situation, and very often we will discover that it was a mistake, a miscommunication, a human failing.
The guy in that other car just cut me off. Oh well, no one was hurt.
The shopkeeper didn’t come to wait on me. Guess I’ll buy it someplace else.
A friend stood us up for lunch. She’s so busy. I hope she’s OK.
A bully just made a snide remark about you. What goes around comes around, and people will see what’s happening here. He’s his own worst enemy. (OK, maybe sometimes we will need to deal with a matter, but let’s don’t pour gas on the problem. Let’s think through what is strategic and respond wisely.
Your spouse did or said something hurtful. She’s obviously having a crummy day, or maybe I could have been more understanding about the way I listened to his story.
And the bonus is that if we give this other person the benefit of the doubt, we’re going to feel better about things and our relationship is much more likely to remain positive.
Now let’s consider Jesus words about lust as compared to adultery. Wasn’t it Jimmy Carter who got skewered for saying that he had committed adultery in his heart? Well, haven’t we all? But here’s the thing—how we view this other person has a lot to do with what comes next. Do we see them as an object with which to satisfy our wants and needs? Or do we see them as a fully human person with hopes and dreams and with needs and vulnerabilities? If fully human, then their needs are just as important as ours.
Sometimes I read where someone will be commenting about an affair, “It just happened! Are you kidding me? There were lots of little decisions that led to that moment when the clothes come off. We have a lot of opportunities to step away from that happening. You know what they are. They move you away from the temptation and out of harm’s way. There will always be attractions. That’s not the issue. The issue is how we handle those feelings.
On a side note, Jesus suggests that we pluck out an eye or cut off a hand if it causes us to sin. But it’s not really the eye or the hand that’s the problem. It’s the brain and our attitudes. This is hyperbole. It’s a way of saying something in such an exaggerated form that the point is made that what is being said is important.
Now divorce. Over 50% of marriages in our country end in divorce. It’s a sad reality in our society. But we need to understand where Jesus is coming from here.
In Deuteronomy 24 we read that if a man is unhappy with his wife, he can write a decree of divorce and put the woman out of his house. It’s not a God utterance. It’s the way that Moses gave for the people to function. The result was absolutely devastating for many of those women. She had no legal rights, no ability to gain access to the goods of society. Extreme poverty or maybe prostitution was very possibly her only options. At times another man took her for his wife, but there were no guarantees. Jesus says even then, she’s being forced into adultery in that new relationship. The goal is to protect and provide for the woman who has no power. In today’s world things are very different. Women do have the ability to care for themselves and to manage their lives on their own. I think God would like for all marriages to thrive, but when misery is the reality, I think God would invite us to leave that relationship to be happy and whole.
Finally, the uttering of oaths. The problem is that to attach God’s name to something like that diminishes our Lord—especially if that promise is not fulfilled. Just speak your promise and leave God out of it. And by the way, leave out the earth or a place or any other of God’s good gifts.
One of the ways I hear this one being abused today is when people use God’s name as an exclamation point, “O God!” they say and I cringe. There’s nothing holy or respectful to our Lord in that. Why pull God into it?
Jesus invites us to think carefully about these things. The essence of all these is to live together with respect and care, not only for God but for one another. We need to find ways to honor one another and to give them space to move and breathe and be well, even on those days when things are going haywire.
Two paths stretch before us. Life which offers us relationship, contentment, and peace, not only with God but with our brothers and sisters. OR death, which is the slippery slope that allows some of our worst inclinations and responses and leads to pain and destruction.
Let’s choose life. Let’s manage our own thoughts and responses, our behaviors and words. God wants life for all of us, and he sent his Son to show us the way. Amen.
HYMN Help Us Accept Each Other #358
OFFERING OUR LIVES
DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
HYMN For the Bread Which You Have Broken #508
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
L: You call us, Lord God to your table.
P: Women and men, boys and girls—together we are the fields which you have planted, the building which you are constructing.
L: It is here that we receive the nourishment to stand together against the ravages of our society.
P: The bread which we will break is your body broken for us.
L: The cup which we will drink is your blood poured out for us.
P: May we eat and be empowered to live your hope for our world.
L: May we drink to hold hands with our brothers and sisters and know the goodness of your love.
ALL: We open our hearts to you, Lord of Life. Amen
RECEIVING THE BREAD AND CUP
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
HYMN There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit #398
CHARGE & BLESSING
We will remain seated throughout the service.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.