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“An Upright Heart”

February 16, 2014 –– Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
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 (3)
1Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,
3who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.
4You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
5O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
6Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.
8I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
And so, brothers 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
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.


The Deuteronomy text emphasizes choosing life, God’s way, as the people settle in a land with settled ways. Those settled ways demand allegiance and loyalty, perhaps even worship. The freedom of desert ways is often forgotten in the markets and thoroughfares of the empire’s systems. The ways of empire violate human dignity and nature’s ability to maintain equilibrium. When we are weighed down with empire living and its systems of oppression we find it find it difficult to manage shorelines, power grids, food security and wetlands. Our fears and concerns consume us and we forget the simplicity of communing with God.

Psalm 119 celebrates the vision of living in communion with God and remaining focused on Godly living. I often find the psalms to be hymns of confidence and yearning. “I will praise you with an upright heart…do not utterly forsake me.”

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth counsels the congregation to stay focused on allegiance to God and not to be distracted by church politics and personalities. The agricultural metaphors help us think systemically. It is more productive to think of our spiritual journey and the life of the church in organic ways. The last sentence essentially is saying that we, as Christ-followers, have a synergistic relationship with God’s activity in the world.

Matthew’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount where, as usual, he digs deeply into human motivation. Reconciled, restored human relationships is top priority. Retribution is not an option. Violence is out of the question. The adversarial court system is not the way to settle disputes. Not seeing women as human beings is a severe dysfunction. Women are not property, they are covenant partners. Relational covenants are to be taken very seriously. It should be troubling for men to hear Jesus’ words addressed only to men. We are called to keep our word without having to swear an oath or put our hand on a Bible.

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