Our first reading, from Deuteronomy, underscores the prayer of our collect for the day, which emphasizes keeping God’s commandments. Our unavoidable weakness, the collect says, means that in order to keep God’s commandments we must rely on God’s grace. The writer in Deuteronomy presents this reliance in terms of choice; we must choose between “life and death, blessings and curses.” The choice is between following our Lord and turning away, refusing to listen, and following and serving other gods. For the historical moment of Deuteronomy this may have been an overt and literal choice between the God of Israel and other gods. For us, the choice is not as direct, but it is equally real. Will our foundation and first reliance be on the Father to whom we come through Christ, or will it be on our trust in the structures of our culture, or on our own intellect and will, or on our wealth and privilege? The promises of our baptismal covenant make the terms of our choice clear. Pay attention as we reaffirm them together.
We continue reading Paul’s directions to the young church in Corinth. They had fallen into infighting and faction allegiance, “belonging” to one leader or another. Paul reminds them that is giving way to human inclination, forgetting that “God gives the growth.” Paul was the one who planted, someone else (Apollos) watered, “but only God gives the growth.” We are all God’s servants, Paul points out, working together. Who we are and what we do belongs to God.
In our gospel lesson, we continue to read Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. This week, Jesus explains the pronouncement made in last week’s gospel: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” At the conclusion of last week’s gospel, Jesus called his followers to a greater righteousness than that of the scribes and the Pharisees, without which they (we) will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This week he explains it. His explanation does not take the form of an elaboration; instead, Jesus gives a series of concrete examples that take the original commandments and place them in a new structure. All of them are variations on the Great Commandment: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul; and likewise, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The examples Jesus gives demonstrate that love is without hostility, that it does not prey on others, that it is the ground and constant stay of marriage, and that it is unconditionally truthful.
Walking in God’s ways means living up to the highest of standards, and it may seem a daunting undertaking. One of the many gifts of Mary Mac’s baptism will be that it will remind us that we do not make this journey, walk this way, alone. We do it, always, with God’s help, and we do it together, as the family of God, loving and helping and sometimes carrying each other.