And Now Your Reward

After Epiphany: The Great Invitation Worship Series Overview

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Blessings are a gift of God in God’s kingdom. Rewards are the result of living more fully into the ways of God’s kingdom, or as we might say, “growing in holiness of heart and life.” Jesus reminds us of ways we can stay on or stray from the trail God’s kingdom blazes for us in this life.  

Reading Notes

NRSV texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Social holiness defined— loving your neighbor, whatever their condition, as you love yourself.

Psalm 119:33-40 (UMH 841-842)
Response 2 again fits best with the theme of the OT/Gospel stream today. Sing with Tone 1 in B-flat major (UMH 737).

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth they are the temple of God. They are to honor their bodies as God has made them and be grateful for all leaders who lay or build on the foundation of Christ.

Matthew 5:38-48
"You have heard it said… but I tell you," Part 2! The nearing of the kingdom of God means we are to (and now can!) treat those who harm us, oppressors and enemies very differently than we may have been trained.

Calendar Notes

The Great Invitation: “And Now Your Reward"

We conclude our time in the Sermon on the Mount today with a deeply Wesleyan focus. Our reward is being made perfect in love as we learn to love even our enemies.

Black History Month continues.

Presidents Day (USA) is tomorrow. You may wish to include a prayer for the sitting president (by name) and for all past presidents in your intercessions today.

Next Sunday is The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the conclusion of this series, and the segue into Lent. Be sure to start announcing your Lenten Series (ours is called “Living Your Baptismal Calling”) and inviting participation in this season of deep formation in the way of Christ.

In the Series

We’re at the conclusion of the four weeks of teaching on the mountain, and next week we go with Jesus, Peter, James, and John to another mountain for the series wrap (Transfiguration) and segue into Ash Wednesday and Lent. That service forms the other bookend of this series and season, begun by Baptism of the Lord. So through this season we have seen the journey of the Christian life, from new birth to resurrection with Christ in the new creation. And, if we’ve been doing the core evangelistic work of this season, we’ve invited others to join us in exploring what this life could be for them, should they choose to join us in preparing for it or deepening our disciplines in it during Lent.

Today: And Now Your Reward
This week concludes the “This, Not That” teaching begun last week, and then focuses on the reward of righteousness as God’s kingdom defines it here and now. We use the latter in this service as a lens for the former. That’s why verse 48 is placed in the reading we have provided twice, in two slightly different translations.

There is no reward either in loving those who love you already (Matthew 5:46) or in taking even proportionally limited revenge against someone who has harmed you (Matthew 5:38 ff.). Both reflect an imperfect righteousness, the righteousness of this world, this age, even the righteousness of the best of the religious people in Jesus’ day. He calls us to a righteousness beyond that. Living out of that righteousness does generate real reward.

The chief reward is the possibility of perfection, and specifically, as the Wesleys put it, perfection in love in this life. Love everyone. Specifically, be able to love persecutors and enemies. Love all. Bless all. That is the chief reward. And it generates many more.

Call to Perfection
The primary action we’ve “scripted” as a response to the word today is the singing of a Charles Wesley text, a mashup, actually, of two different hymns (“Try Us, O God,” and “Jesus, United by Thy Grace”). The text calls on God to continue the work of perfecting us in love and dedicates the gathered assembly to continue to pursue such love and righteousness in our own lives. You may wish to add other actions to the singing of this hymn. You may invite people to come forward for prayer with the pastor and other leaders as the congregation sings. You may invite people to kneel where they are as they sing it. Or you may have a choir or ensemble sing the verses and the congregation join in the refrain. And during the verses, you might ask the congregation to identify, write down, and pray for one or a number of people whom they are struggling most to love. You may then encourage people to share their list with at one or two other people this week as prayer partners.

You and your planning team know your congregation. You know what they are best prepared to do and what may be too much of a stretch. Seek a slight stretch in what you choose.

For the Week Ahead
Keep the call to perfection in love going throughout the week through social media, email, on your website, or through other means. And, once again, elicit testimonies of what happens as people pray for those with whom they have struggled. Becoming perfected in love is fully imaged in our celebration next week of the transfiguration of Jesus. Find ways to share some of the testimonies you collect as part of worship or in the worship space (or nearby) next Sunday.

Aditional Resources

2014 Planning Helps for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands

In This Series...

The Heavens are Opened — Planning Notes Come and See — Planning Notes Follow Me — Planning Notes #Blessed— Planning Notes Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding — Planning Notes This, Not That — Planning Notes Shine! — Planning Notes