Sermon Epiphany 5 February 5, 2017
Isaiah 58:1-12 Psalm 112:1-10 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 Matthew 5:13-20
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Today in his First Letter to the Corinthians, that is the Christians in Corinth, we hear a side of Paul that is often skipped over. He did not have an easy time in Corinth, other preachers were giving a different message from him, so we hear for the first time that Paul is afraid. Different messages are a problem when you are trying to get a particular idea across. Difficult messages are a problem too, and the Christian Church has been somewhat plagued with them. We started out well with the New Testament, and with most of the early Church Fathers and Mothers, then life tended to get more difficult as theology deepened. Heretics espoused opinions and caused confusion. The upside of a heresy though is that ideas are clarified and the main idea is properly developed. One of the bigger problems after heresy is the shear burden of reading page after page of text, probably all good stuff but difficult to comprehend. I am currently wading through Meister Eckhart. I am on page one hundred and seventy five of his commentary on John and he is still expounding on, “In the beginning was the Word” as you know that is part of the first verse of the first chapter of the Gospel of John. I hope to live long enough to get to the end of the New Testament. What we really need is to read the accessible authors such as C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann, and of course Paul himself, for clear thoughts.
Paul decried the highfalutin and spoke and wrote in plain language, which is the talent of all great writers and orators – straightforward ideas, simple language. but in all cases the content has to be good. Paul’s is that for he says “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”. Frankly that is the essence of the entire Bible – Christ’s Crucifixion because it brought about our Salvation, which is what God has been up to since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God’s concern is that we come back into His fold.
Jesus follows the same train of thought and way of speaking. We are the Salt of the Earth He says meaning we are highly valued. Being Salt of the Earth means being a good, honest, hardworking, ‘do anything for you’ kind of a person. Jesus was saying that is how we should be with others. We also know that salt adds flavour, our fast food economy would cease to exist if it didn’t rely on the taste of salt. And traditionally salt is reliable for purifying, preserving and flavouring so it is well ensconced in our lives. Shouldn’t we emulate it then ?
And Jesus continues by calling us the Light of the World, so we should not hide our light from others, we should be like a city on a hill. I am fascinated by those shots from Space that show the Earth at night – all the cities of the world shine in the darkness. The most and the brightest ones are those in the Free World. When I look at them I get an unusual feeling, wondering what is going on down there and imagining the people, the minuscule people, doing the stuff they do. The night lights of repressive regimes are darker by far and I wonder what bad stuff is going on there, who is struggling against what ! It’s very much like looking down on an ant farm. I have a definite feeling of disconnexion from the people below, until I realise that I am one of them, until I realise that I could be just a little bit of the light I see. Our Faith should light us up so that we become a beacon for others, a light that overcomes the darkness in the lives of the people who live in darkness. The funny thing is when we are in total darkness and we see a light we cannot help but look at it, we automatically turn away from the dark. That’s what others experience when they see your faith and good works and that’s when they start walking towards the light. We naturally turn away from what is Bad and turn toward the Good. The challenge always is to show the Good, to live the Good. Not like the Scribes and the Pharisees who were more interested in silly detail but in genuine generosity toward others.
What is the Good ? Well Jesus explains that too – God’s laws are the Good. Therefore they will not change. Prime among them are the two singled out by Jesus “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus says that these laws will never pass away and that we will be judged by how well we kept them. Now that is daunting because I know at one time or another we have broken those laws, let alone, having forgotten the proverbial jot and title of keeping them.
There is just one Saving Grace, those who break the Law will be least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whew ! We are in, even if it is at the bottom of the pile. But if we genuinely want to be near God and know God, sneaking in under the door and being the least in the Kingdom is surely not enough. It’s not, and Isaiah lays it out straight. First he says be humble. Then oppose injustice, what things do you know that are unjust ? Top of my list is our history with minorities, indigenous people, African-Canadians, the lack of real health care for seniors and the seriously ill, support for the destitute, and the way we look down on and discount the less fortunate. How many things smack of oppression ? My list includes all who work hard and cannot make a living-wage, their oppression comes from a society that operates on the basis of supply and demand, which always leads to a race to the bottom. Are you a good neighbour to those in need ? Do you help your neighbour or do you look away ? If you do all the things necessary to correct rotten things when they occur and oppose the bad societal norms then you are a light in the darkness for those who can see nothing but blackness until you came along. If so the rewards are many, the first is that you feel good about yourself, not out of pride but by seeing others restored. Second and by no means least you will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Now that’s something to be sought after, being close to God and being loved. Amen.