Friday, June 18

Matthew 6:1-4

When it comes to the work of giving and caring in secret, who are our role models? I’ve witnessed such good works all my life that I have a list of those who showed me how it’s done. 

When my dad was in seminary, he pastored a small rural church. My mom was a pastor’s spouse with three elementary-aged kids and a tight budget. I remember her sharing tips and strategies to help people in need to get the most bags for their buck at the grocery store.

One summer in college I lived with Kate, a matriarch of the church my dad pastored when I was in high school. I often saw her fill a basket with food she’d cooked and flowers from her garden for someone who was sick or in need or in crisis. Everything she did was beautiful. She would cover the food with a lovely cloth napkin, and the bright zinnias poking out were enough to cheer the dead. I love zinnias to this day for reminding me of Kate and her good works.

As a young adult I helped with a church building campaign and learned of members who mortgaged their houses during the Great Depression to pay for the grand building, which they began constructing in 1926. That building has housed great preaching, teaching, and creative ministry for almost 100 years.

More recently I learned of a trans woman who put her wedding ring in the offering plate because it was all she had to give. Just last week I heard of friends taking food to a young mom with breast cancer. The work continues. Our churches are blessed with many of these people.

Thanks be to God for these gentle armies, quietly giving and caring, living out Jesus’ commandments. And thanks be to God for some “good gossips,” who leak some of their secrets so we might be inspired.


What does it take to give up the credit for doing something good? How could learning to do this help your faith grow?


God, keep my focus on you, so any good I do is for your eyes alone. Amen.

Thursday, June 17

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus’ commandment to love your enemies is surely one of his most challenging (v. 44). Godly people have shown us that obeying this is possible through God’s transforming love. One such person is Ann Atwater.

Because of her own experience with substandard housing, Ann participated in a 17-week training course to learn about community organizing in Durham, North Carolina, and became an outspoken civil rights activist there. In 1971 Ann, who is Black, participated in a series of meetings on the full integration of the Durham Public Schools with C.P. Elliott, the head of the local KKK. They were truly enemies. At an earlier city council meeting, when he went on a racist diatribe, Ann pulled out a knife but her friends held her back. “I hated her guts,” the KKK leader said in a later interview.

When integration talks stalled, Ann Atwater took a transforming initiative. She pulled strings to better the living situation of the Elliotts’ disabled son in the facility that cared for him. Ann and C.P. began to talk. C.P. began to see that the system that held poor White and poor Black people down was their common enemy, not each other. He voted for integration of the schools and publicly tore up his Klan card, alienating his former friends. Ann Atwater and C.P. Elliott became close friends, continuing to work together on issues and traveling together to speak on breaking down barriers. Ann Atwater even gave the eulogy at C.P. Elliott’s funeral.

In one interview Ann said, “I just lend whatever God gives me to give out….I feel that when somebody calls me for some help, God wants me to go on record sayin’ I tried.” May we go and do likewise.


What transforming initiative could you take in the hope that God might work through your action for the common good?


God, we have a hard time loving others. Astound us with the way you change enemies into friends so that we’ll want to be part of your work. Amen.

Wednesday, June 16

Matthew 5:38-42

It’s easy to contend that Jesus was just holding up ideals when he gives these instructions on the Sermon on the Mount. Seriously, Jesus? I’m really not supposed to strike back when someone threatens me?

But some people have actually practiced these commandments, sometimes with amazing outcomes. They show us it really can be done.

Do you remember reading about Antoinette Tuff, the school bookkeeper who talked a school shooter down in Atlanta in 2013? Instead of returning threat for threat, she did not let his actions dictate hers. Despite the intense fear that Tuff says she felt, she spoke to the shooter as a child of God: “It’s going to be all right, sweetie…. We all go through something in life.” To assure him he was not alone, she told him her own story of being tempted by suicide when her husband of 33 years had left her for another woman six months before. She told him that things could get better, and they could all come out of this alive. And they did. In time, Antoinette negotiated his full surrender.

Antoinette Tuff is clear that God had prepared her for that day. She remembered her pastor’s sermon series on anchoring that taught her how to console those who are grieving. She saw the young man as a person in pain. Inwardly, she was praying throughout the whole crisis that Jesus would guide her in what to say and do.

Her story provides such a vivid reminder that our prayers and reflections, our reading of Scripture, singing hymns, and listening to sermons are all about matters of life and death. May we follow in the Way that leads to Life—in every situation.


When have you struggled to do what Jesus teaches in this passage? When has praying through a crisis given you strength to practice what Jesus preaches here?


God, when the struggle is real and we find ourselves not knowing how to respond, help us know your way that leads to life. Amen.

Tuesday, June 15

Matthew 5:33-37

Remember the John Lovitz character Larry the Liar from Saturday Night Live? More words were always better as Larry tried every possible improbable answer until he landed on the one he thought best: “Yeah…that’s the ticket!” Larry reminds us of politicians and others who just babble on until we turn the channel.

What a contrast to Jesus, who answered accusers “You have said so,” then said nothing at all (Mt 26:25, 64; 27:11; Mk 15:2). Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of I am Who I am, whose name reflects so much ineffable divine mystery that can’t be captured in words, knew that words have so much power they don’t need to be amplified with oaths.

Late ethics professor Glen Stassen said Jesus called for “transforming initiatives” in response to the old laws. In this case, simple truthfulness prevents a need to swear oaths. Glen tells about his German grandfather, who sold beautiful tomatoes at a farmers’ market. He took pride in his honesty and was highly offended when a woman checked to see if the bottom layers of tomatoes were as good as the ones on top. In his German accent, he said, “Dey’re da same t’rough an t’rough; ya don’t believe it, ya go buy somewhere else!” The rest of his life, Glen heard in his head, “True and true, through and through.”

But what about situations when not telling the truth might save lives, such as when Nazis asked about hidden Jews? Stassen points out that for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a Nazi prison, covenant makes a difference. Bonhoeffer considered himself in covenant with Christ, the church, the suffering, and his friends, but not with Nazis, so an obligation to tell them the truth wasn’t something he had promised.

May our covenant with Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life—guide us in all our truth-telling.


When do you need Christ to guide your truth-telling?


God, make us honest people who love the truth and the living in it. Amen.

Monday, June 14

Matthew 5:31-32

In his commentary on Matthew (WJK 1997), Tom Long says “marriage is intended to be a communion between two people that expresses their mutual fidelity, the faithfulness of God. It is intended to be a place of safety, nurture, and honor for persons. In Jesus’ day, the customs and practices of divorce were a direct assault on those values.” Long also says “when a marriage becomes the very arena where people are destroying each other, we should ask how can the safety, nurture, and honor of the marriage partners best be preserved?” One answer is divorce. While painful and tragic, sometimes that answer is healthiest.

Another answer is reconciliation, as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Whatever you think of Bill and Hillary Clinton as politicians and people, when it comes to repairing a badly damaged marriage, I consider them good role models in the work of reconciliation. Even today, they do not gloss over the pain and anger of that time. She says, “I thought about boiling him in oil!” He admits how stupidly he behaved. She explains that staying in her marriage was the gutsiest thing she’s ever done. They spent a full day every week for a year in individual and couples therapy that involved “painful, painful discussions.” He met regularly with three ministers, and they both say they prayed during this time. She said it took an enormous amount of forgiving, but that “I’m not the easiest person to live with. I’m glad he stuck it out, too.” She says love was really the driving reason. He says they are best friends and that “she’s still the most interesting person I know.”

Thanks be to our loving, forgiving, reconciling, transforming God for working in amazing places—even marriages.


In difficult relationships, what helps you remember that God is always at work for the good of every life?


God, when we fail to love each other, guide us with your grace so that we will be able to see the bigger picture of your hope and love for each of us. Amen.

Sunday, June 13

Matthew 5:27-30

A priest friend told the story of a little boy who confessed to adultery. He asked the little boy, “What do you think adultery is?” and the little boy said, “Well, sometimes I try to act like an adult, and I know I’m not.”

Even though the word adultery has “adult” in it, adultery and the lust that accompanies it often involves all kinds of childish behavior—sneaking around, keeping secrets, acting on impulse, giving oneself over to bodily impulses despite recognizing that they aren’t rational or honoring to God or spouses. We might even hear an adulterous person say, “I felt like a kid again.” It’s all fun and games until somebody puts an eye out, until hearts and trust and covenants are broken, and everything gets messy and complicated beyond repair.

Jesus says we need to tear an eye out if it causes you to sin (v. 29), to nip lust in the bud so to speak. We must behave as adults when faced with adultery.

Jesus offers a life based on the law of God’s love here. He invites us to a wholehearted faith that moves beyond legalism to know and honor the spirit of God’s law. Despite the responsibilities that come with “adulting,” and the temptations we face to act childish once again, growing into the person Christ envisions us to be is an incomparable and joyful experience. 

Paul reminds us that when we become adults we “put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). We see and know more fully; we draw closer to the more excellent way, the love that never ends.  


When do you struggle to grow into the person Christ envisions you to be? 


God, give us wisdom to understand your desire to guide all of our relationships. Amen.

Saturday, June 12

Matthew 5:21-26

We started this week with the theme of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9). In today’s text, Jesus warns about what happens when we don’t pursue peace. He asks us to consider how anger grows, deeply divides, and eventually destroys us. When we experience conflict with someone, Jesus says that we should be reconciled (v. 24) and [c]ome to terms quickly (v. 25). These are words to remember when challenges rise among us.

Years ago, I saw this passage spelled out in a church’s official documents as the first procedure for resolving conflict between its members. It makes sense for any Christian community to first seek Jesus’ teaching for guidance on the matter. In practice though, how many faith communities help members navigate conflict by studying verses like these? Not all conflicts are alike and some attempts at peacemaking could could cause more harm than help if the community doesn’t give proper attention to the problem. Consider those experiencing trauma or dealing with difficult power dynamics or personalities. Forgiveness and reconciliation should always free people, not further oppress them.

But when we dig deeply into the message of Jesus and take this practice seriously, amazing things emerge. We can practice this form of making peace in our own lives and community in ways that we’ve overlooked. We could more fully support those who struggle with this process of reconciliation and need helpful resources to reach a resolution. Maybe Jesus’ way here is something our congregations could talk about more openly and explore for the benefit of individuals and the church as a whole.


What does forgiveness look like in my life? What does forgiveness look like in my community of faith?


God, as we seek to better follow you in our community, help us become more patient and understanding with ourselves and others. Amen.

Friday, June 11

Matthew 5:17-20

After assigning us some hefty reading over the previous days, our professor suspected that my classmates and I were not taking our homework seriously enough. Doubtful that we were reading at the level he expected for class preparation, he sprung a sort of “pop quiz” on us. His assessment was simple. He listed each of our assigned readings with a place to indicate our engagement with them. We could choose one of four options for each section of material: did not read, skimmed, read all, or read and took notes. The activity surprised us and prompted us to be honest. It also helped us reconsider the purpose of our assignments and evaluate the effort we were investing in the course. Our professor had a good conversation with us about the purpose of those reading assignments, what our efforts meant, and how we could approach them moving forward.

I often think back on this experience. My professor was more concerned about his students receiving something meaningful from the assignments than he was about testing our memorization skills or having us mindlessly complete busywork. He wanted us to take the time to truly read and engage the material, rather than simply checking a task off our list. His intention was to foster a better practice within us, one that shaped our learning so we could apply it to our classroom discussions and the work we would eventually do in our field. 

Jesus wants us to see how studying and practicing his teachings and commandments could make them more than a checklist of which ones we do or haven’t done. He wants his words to move us towards a better life. Are we embracing this guidance? Is the Spirit that resides in Christ’s words enlivening our own words and actions? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows us what this kind of lively life looks like. 


As I read Scripture, how could I better embody it and experience its life?


God, as we seek to live by your teachings, help us discover the abundant life that comes from living for you. Amen.

Thursday, June 10

Matthew 5:14-16

When I lived in Atlanta, I participated in a monthly Taizé-style prayer service at a local church. The services used the traditions and practices of Taizé, an ecumenical Christian community based in France that has influenced Christian communities around the world. These times of worship, which I truly looked forward to, centered me for the month ahead. Chants, candles, music, readings, and prayer filled the worship space. The service was so simple and so rich. This simplicity was the gift it offered. Its pace invited me to slow down, though this sacred time seemed to fly by.

During the hour, I would set my sight on a candle in the darkened space, which would help me focus on God during the time of extended silence. It radiated light in a dark area that could have easily overwhelmed it. Along with the other lit candles placed around the chapel, the one that held my gaze energized my devotion.

When I read Jesus’ words in today’s passage, I remember those many Taizé evenings of chanting, praying, worshiping in silence, and focusing on the candles in the chapel. It’s amazing what a single light can do in the darkness, drawing our attention while illuminating our surroundings. 

Jesus calls us to be a light. This isn’t a call to grab attention to ourselves, but to focus on God and illuminate the world around us. We hope that we are being the presence we need to be through what we say and do. May we shine together so that we can be an even greater light across our communities and the world. 


How am I being a light in the world today?


As we strive to be the light in the world, may we stay connected to you, our source, O God. Amen.

Wednesday, June 9

Matthew 5:13

As my passion for cooking healthier food develops, so does my appreciation for salt. Because of my family health history, I must be much more attentive to the presence of salt in my diet than some of my friends have to be. For a long period of time, I wouldn’t add any salt to my recipes, even when I was preparing meat to cook. Yet the human body needs this versatile ingredient. Learning the right amount of salt for our dishes is essential. Gradually I learned how to delicately use this ingredient to enhance flavors and create an altogether better meal.

As I was learning this, I also paid attention to the sodium that
was already present in my food. A little bit of good, well used salt
goes a long way. It really brings out the flavors we savor and helps our body function properly. Too much salt renders a dish unfit to eat and
ultimately harms us. 

When Jesus uses the image of salt in today’s passage, he assumes that most people know something about the necessity of salt to balance and flavor whatever surrounds it. Salt isn’t bad or corrupting: it serves
a necessary purpose.

Similarly, Christians who pay attention to Jesus’ teaching strive to live out our purpose as well. We are not meant to congregate by ourselves, but to spread into the world to which Christ sends us and enhance it. We maintain our saltiness by staying spiritually centered, attentive to the context in which Christ calls us to live and serve. 


In what ways could I center my life in Christ to become a more effective disciple in my context? 


God, as we move through the days ahead, guide us to center ourselves in your Spirit, so that we may serve as a positive presence wherever we go. Amen.