The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 12, 2023

November 27, 2022 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Deuteronomy 20:15-20 Psalm 119:1-8 I Corinthians 3:1-9 Matthew 5:21-37

Often someone describes the importance of a decision by stating, “This is a matter of life and death.”  While not all of our decisions are so dramatic, and many seem to be relatively inconsequential in impact, each decision matters, and may bring us and our environment closer or further from God’s vision.  Each of our decisions opens the door to a greater influx of divine possibility and energy or minimizes the impact of God in our particular setting and ongoing personal growth.

The Deuteronomy reading leaves little room for gray. The Hebraic people – and presumably us – are presented with the stark contrast of prosperity and adversity, and life and death. Each decision reflects, in some way, our relationship with God.  Do we choose the pathway of the One True God or the finite gods of our creation?  Do we align ourselves with what gives life to our communities, or do we put self-interest above community well-being?  For the Deuteronomist, the choices we make are both individual and communal. There is no isolated selfhood.  What happens in personal and domestic decision-making has a community impact.  The individual decisions of corporate executives and politicians, made in the privacy of their offices, affect millions of people across the globe.

There is no way to avoid the impact of our relational, and possibly even private, decisions. Walking in God’s way leads to joy and fulfillment for persons and communities.  Turning away from God’s way and following our own path, going against God’s moral and spiritual arcs of history, will eventually have negative consequences for ourselves and others.  Choose well.

Often congregants ask, “So what?” in response to a pastoral homily. “Do these words or counsel make any difference? And, if so, how do we put them into practice?”  More dramatically in the Deuteronomy passage, “How do we know if we are choosing life and death in the micro level of daily life?  How do we tilt our decision-making toward that which is life-giving in our personal lives, families, relationships, professions, and citizenship?”  Helpful as they are, a recitation of the Ten Commandments will not guide us on how to help our children do their homework without anxiety or escape the burdens of racism, sexism, and homophobia.  No one-size-fits-all in the quest to affirm life or discern God’s vision.  Still, mindfulness of our behaviors and their impact on others is a first step.  Further, as “hokey” as it may seem to some sophisticated congregants, the practice of taking decisions to God in prayer and asking directly and regularly, “How shall I live?  How can I promote wellbeing?  How can I act to make my world and yours a better place?” is a good place to start.  Taking time to listen to wisdom givers, whether in scripture, in conversation with spiritual directors and counselors, or a clearness committee also may provide a pathway to choosing life and aligning yourself with God’s vision.

The Psalmist speaks of walking in the law and path of God. Solvitur ambulando, “it will be solved in the walking.”  With the Southern African song, “Marching in the Light of God,” we find joy in opening to God’s guidance as to the roads we should travel.  Will we be people of the way, or wayward spiritually.  While as Tolkien says, “not all  who wander are lost,” meandering to gain wisdom is essential for spiritual maturity.

In the Corinthians reading, the Apostle Paul describes the process of attaining spiritual maturity.  The party spirit, characteristic of the Corinthian community, is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Paul challenges the Corinthians to go beyond party and adulation of particular spiritual leaders to seek the best for the community.  Unity is not the result of homogeneity or similarity, but a recognition of the common good and our need to promote unity rather than division in community life.  Our allegiances must be penultimate.  While preserving our own integrity and honoring our experience, we need to see our relatedness to others and the importance of training our senses to the values of their perspective.  There are times when the best choice involves setting aside or relativizing our position or looking for a larger perspective to promote the health of our congregation.

The reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount counsels us to cultivate the inner life as well as external behavior.  The way in and way out are one. We need to be self-aware and mindful, letting our inner life and its purity shape our outer behavior.  We must go beyond ritual and appearance in the quest for integrity.  Mindfulness or self-awareness not only reveals the “devices and desires of our hearts”; it also opens us to God’s aim or vision for each situation of our lives.  Being “woke” is a good thing, when it comes to awareness of the biases and prejudices that we still harbor, based on age, gender, race, nationality, social and professional standing, and education.  God’s aims come in the context of our self-awareness.  Denial and ignorance, and apathy and alienation, shape the contours and vitality of God’s presence in our lives.  Awareness of our limitations enable these concrete realities to become the source of personal and relational growth.

Of course, few of us measure up to inner integrity 24/7. We have lust and temptation to anger.  Many of our biases are unconscious until we shine the light of divine wisdom upon them. We need to aspire to spiritual maturity: need to be aware of our limits, biases, and temptations, so that we might be more understanding of others’ foibles and find creative and life-supportive ways to respond to the diversity of human experience.

In orienting ourselves toward life-supporting behaviors and self-awareness, we become persons of size and stature (Bernard Loomer), “fat souls” (Patricia Adams Farmer), who embrace contrast in inner lives and outer commitments and in our relationships with others.  We embrace and not exclude, and in our embrace look beyond ourselves to the wellbeing of others, our congregation, the community, and the world.

Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including The Elephant Is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision Of Contemplative Activism; Mystic’s In Action: Twelve Saints For Today; Walking With Saint Francis: From Privilege To Activism; Messy Incarnation: Meditations On Process Christology, and From Cosmos To Cradle: Meditations On The Incarnation. His latest book is The Prophetic Amos Speaks To America. He can be reached for seminars and talks at