Contributed by Erik Ulstead, West Des Moines, IA


Warm-up Question

Would you rather do the bare minimum or overachieve?  Why?

Above and Beyond

New York City is poised to be the latest community to enact a law that requires businesses with at least fifteen employees to offer paid sick days.  Some business owners are wary of the new requirements.  They fear this law will be hard on medium-sized businesses that are already struggling.  “Not only will I have to pay the worker who stayed home sick,” said one businessman, “but I also have to pay another worker to cover the shift.”

shutterstock_94428592editMayor Bill de Blasio supports the new law and wants to go even further.  He promises to “continue fighting until all families have this fundamental right.”  De Blasio believes there are already many small businesses that are offering paid sick leave to their employees.  “No one should be forced to lose a day’s pay, or even a week’s pay, simply because illness strikes. And by this time next year, 300,000 additional New Yorkers will be protected by that law. We won’t wait,” he said.

In the past few years San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. have established similar laws.  San Francisco’s law, which requires all employers to offer at least five paid sick days per year, was enacted in 2007.  According to a 2011 study done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, six out of seven San Francisco employers said their profitability didn’t suffer as a result.  Mayor de Blasio has watched these communities closely and feels strongly that paid sick leave laws are good for everyone.  Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, agrees.  “Most employers want to offer their staff paid sick leave – it’s good for morale.”  New York’s paid sick leave law is set to take effect in April.


Discussion Questions

  • What’s the sickest you’ve been?  Did you miss school or work because of your illness?
  • Why do you think the New York City mayor is so vocal in his support of the paid sick leave law?
  • How do you feel about a law requiring business owners to pay employees when they miss work due to illness?
  • What do you think about the companies who are offering paid sick leave even though they aren’t required to do so?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 16, 2014 (Sixth Sunday after Epiphany)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

The verses from Matthew are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  He has moved quickly from the Beatitudes and talking about salt and light into some pretty controversial stuff – anger, adultery, divorce, and oaths.  At first glance, Jesus appears to be taking a rigid, legalistic approach to these topics.  Statements like “if you say, ‘You Fool’, you will be liable to the hell of fire,” and, “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away,” are startling, if not entirely preposterous.

In those days, God’s people had become devout adherents to the letter of many of the laws of Moses.  However, they were neglecting the spirit of these laws.  For them it was about showing others how righteous they were, even though they were neglecting to look with loving-kindness on those in need.  More specifically, Jesus is adamant that men start treating women better.  In this sermon he has harsh words for men who look with lust upon a woman, assault women, or  divorce a woman for no good reason.

This section of Matthew has been debated for centuries.  What is Jesus saying about the nature of sin?  Does he really want people to cut off their hands?  Should someone really be thrown into prison for calling someone a ‘fool’?  Is it okay for a divorced person to get remarried?  These are good things to discuss and explore with your group.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the Sermon on the Mount is about the command to care for the lost, last, and least in society.  Jesus calls us to be mindful of how we treat others.  Our actions matter to God because God’s people matter to God.

Discussion Questions

  • What’s the most startling thing you heard Jesus say in the gospel reading?
  • Who are some of the people in your community who are among the last, least, and lost?
  • How is God calling you to go above-and-beyond the letter of the law to show kindness to others?

Activity Suggestions

We’re on the heels of Valentine’s Day, a time when we are reminded to love others.  This activity is a call for Christians to emphasize love every day of the year, not just on February 14.  Consider making a “Wall of Love” in your meeting space.  Draw a large heart on a poster board or mural paper.  Decorate it as you see fit.  Use sticky notes to write ideas of how people can go out of their way to love others.  Post the sticky notes onto the Wall of Love.  Ask everyone to come up with at least three ideas.  Be sure to talk about ways to put these ideas into action in the week ahead.

Closing Prayer

God of love – you call us to be passionate about caring for those in need.  Help us look past the easy answers and be with us as we do the difficult work of justice and peace.  For the sake of Jesus, your Son. Amen.