A moment of contemplation for yourself or on behalf of others on everything from the life-altering to the mundane.

Prayer: A conversation with The Higher Other who lives within each of us. An invitation to vent, to re-think, to ask, and to rest.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Prayers of the People: Word Power ~ 6th Sunday after Epiphany '23 Yr A

For Sunday, February 12, 2023, Readings: Sirach 15:15-20 [Deuteronomy 30:15-20], Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37

  If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose[Sirach 15:15-16]

 [Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 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.” [Deuteronomy 30:19b-20]]

   Happy are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Happy are they who observe his decrees and seek him with all their hearts! I will thank you with an unfeigned heart... [Psalm 119:1-2, 7a]

    I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather...infants in Christ. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still people of the flesh...So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose...For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.  [1 Corinthians 3:11b, 2b-3, 7-9]

    So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift...If your right eye causes you to sin tear it out...and if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away... [Matthew 5:23, 29a, 30a]

*You must before your God appear to Give an account of your transactions, And how you spent your time, when here.” [The Rev. Absalom Jones  1746-1818]

        Life is about our choices. We all have soul choices and faith decisions to make in and for this life, even in the midst of unforeseen circumstances. The reading from the Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, gives those in his time (about 2nd century BCE) and us, the reality that we ourselves can choose to keep the Commandments and to act faithfully. The other Old Testament reading choice for today, Deuteronomy, similarly outlines our choices and emphasizing that by observing the commandments, decrees, and ordinances and by loving God, we choose life and the “if this/then that” of our actions with their consequences: I set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. The Psalmist chimes in with the incentives of faithfulness by telling us how happy they are who observe the Law of the Lord, our God.
       Paul lays it out to the Church at Corinth ~ they were not ready to hear what he had to say ~ and he spoke to them as infants in Christ because they were still of the flesh. He also tells them/us that working together in community, with a common purpose, serves our God. There are planters and waterers in God’s fields, and we are each called in to till, fertilize, or manage. Yet with all we are to do, only God provides the growth. 
       We also may not be ready to hear the message. It’s so easy to be led astray, to bow to the many gods in the gardens of life’s idol and idle distractions ~ the idolatries of social media, of celebrities, of mega-wealth, of choosing the “correct” side of multiple political issues while fomenting exponentially increasing outrage ~ our own and others; or trying to be around the “right” kind of people while judging and excluding, or worse, "those other" kinds of people.
       In this third continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus furthers the idea of community with a list do’s and don’ts regarding our behaviors with and toward others. In one sense, it sounds as though he’s replacing The Law with his own, but read carefully. In his use of You have heard…but I say…Jesus is not reducing but expanding the scope of God’s Law. Most of us avoid murder, for example, but Jesus is warning us that our anger and insult can be a form of violence and subject to God’s judgment. In that vein, it is not a surprise that he says first, be reconciled to your brother or sister.
       There is so much depth to each of Christ’s admonitions. These commandments are not simply a basic morality checklist. They are individually and collectively organized around love, trust, and commitment to God through how we are with one another. We must look beyond the literal statements and understand that each and every one of these are intent on us flourishing in this life. By understanding and living into the full expanse of these commandments, we are then able to experience the transformative power of spiritual and relational wholeness. No, not everyone will welcome the love but it’s how we respond that is the crux of the call. We all fail in relationships at one time or another and we have to decide what to do about it. Being reconciled to our brothers and sisters may simply mean I have sincerely offered to work things out. Some will accept, some will not join me in returning to the altar of God. As we hear Jesus say in Mark’s Gospel, the Greatest Commandment is to love God with all of yourself and love your neighbor as (if she/he/they were) yourself ~ if we do all that then we ARE following the Commandments, we ARE living the Law, we ARE reconciled to God and humanity, and we do Choose Life ~ eternal life ~ spiritual nourishment, with an open and unfeigned heart
       As the Episcopal Church in the US honors The Rev. Absalom Jones on February 13, his words also echo all of the readings and lay out the bottom line for our choice: You must before your God appear to give an account of your transactions, and how you spent your time, when here.  The clear message of the combined readings that I hear is that God gives us free will to choose the path we take and tells us what results to expect. Take it or leave it. Face the consequences. Be reconciled. Are you still an infant in Christ?  Grow up! Be in, with, and for Christ or, not. The power of these words within us gives us the clear options, the choice is ours to make, for this life and the next. 

* The Rev. Absalom Jones was born into slavery in Sussex County, Delaware in 1746 and had an extraordinary life in ministry and beyond. He became the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church in the US, founded several churches, multiple organizations to aid freed and runaway slaves, and a Literary Circle. He is celebrated on the calendar of the US Episcopal Church each February 13. For more information, click here: Prayers of the People: The Rev Absalom Jones

Leader:  ~ O God of Blessing and Promise, inject our spirits with a conscious inner hunger that drives us away from human idolatries, to follow Your ways and to choose the soul-saving path of Your Law.
                                                          O Lord, our God                                            
            RESPONSE:                  We place our trust in You
~ O God of Blessing and Promise, may those who govern in our names throughout this world, this country, and this community, be earnest in observing Your decrees and keeping Your statutes faithfully, in good conscience, for the well-being of all Your people and all of Your Creation. We pray especially for: add your own petitions
                                                      O Lord, our God
                                                     We place our trust in You
~ O God of Blessing and Promise, we ask your blessings for those who are dangerously ill, distraught, or life-weary, and for all who serve their needs. We now join our hearts to pray for those in need… add your own petitions
                                                       O Lord, our God
                                                      We place our trust in You
~ O God of Blessing and Promise, hold close the hearts in sorrow, as we celebrate the gifts of all who have departed for new life in Your complete love and perfect peace. We pray especially for… add your own petitions
                                                       O Lord, our God
                                                      We place our trust in You
~ O God of Blessing and Promise, we pause in this moment to offer You our other heartfelt thanksgivings, intercessions, petitions, and memorials, aloud or silently… add your own petitions
                                                       O Lord, our God
                                                      We place our trust in You
~ O God of Blessing and Promise, may all who serve Your Church feel affirmed and encouraged in guiding us toward growth and grace in You, while we work together as the planters and waterers among Your fields. We pray especially for: add your own petitions
                                                       O Lord, our God
                                                      We place our trust in You
The Celebrant adds: Holy and Mighty God, turn our hearts away from the distractions of earthly existence and stretch out our hands to choose Life Eternal with You. Grant us courage to reconcile with one another, even in disagreement, and to begin each day with love, determined to carry out the vows we have made in Baptism. As Your Servant, The Rev. Absalom Jones reminds us, we give gratitude for Your blessings and will one day give our account to You for how we used our time in this life. We ask through Jesus, our Redeemer Lord; and the Holy Spirit, our Divine Counselor; who together with You are One God, now and forever. Amen. 

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