Posted by: Michael Chance | February 13, 2011

5th Sunday After Epiphany – February 6th

Hymn: The Voice of God is Calling (John Haynes Holmes/William Lloyd)

Opening Prayer: Perfect Light of revelation,
     as you shone in the life of Jesus,
     whose epiphany we celebrate,
     so shine in us and through us,
     that we may become beacons of truth and compassion,
     enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy. Amen. (from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers)

Readings from the Word:
     Isaiah 58:1-12
     Psalms 112:1-10
     1 Corinthians 2:1-16
     Matthew 5:13-20

Reflections on the Word
“You are the light of the world.”

“Your light shall rise in the darkness…”

“They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright…”

As we progress thru the season after Epiphany and into the late winter days, our readings are still proclaiming “Light!” to the world. But this week they take on a different dimension. Instead of continuing to declare Jesus as the light of salvation to a world lost in darkness, both Isaiah and Matthew (joined by the psalmist) are now reflecting God’s light onto us, followers and would-be disciples.

The reading from the Gospel this week continues with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. In this next portion of chapter 5, Jesus begins to explain what exactly it means to be a disciple. But what they heard was very different from what they thought they knew of how to serve God. The people of the time were used to a practice of faith that revolved around performing specific tasks at specific times in a rigidly specific manner, believing that these practices would earn them God’s favor and blessings. In some ways, this isn’t very different than what many Christians still believe today. “If I attend church every week, and memorize the right Bible passages, and say the right prayers, and give my tithe, and work at the homeless shelter, and go on enough mission trips, then I’ll get to heaven when I die.” Sound familiar?

Jesus explains that those who follow him are in the spotlight, and will be watched, even when they may not know it. Consider the three examples that he uses: salt, a candle, and a city on a hill. Salt was and is an important ingredient of food, and whether it add or subtracts from the taste of the food depends on how well it’s been kept. How well we keep God’s commandments determines whether we enrich the lives of those we touch or sour them. Candles aren’t of any use if hidden away, no matter how brightly they burn. Living a pious life in isolation, away from others, doesn’t share God’s love. A city built on a high hill will be see for miles around, and everyone will see how well the city walls are maintained. As Christians, people will see how our lives are maintained, and where our priorities are by the very actions we take.

Have you noticed that Jesus’ examples are things that are not much use by themselves, but work in relationship to others to be of value? Salt is rarely eaten by itself, but used to add to the flavor of other foods. A lit candle in an empty rooms isn’t of much use, but in a room full of people allows them to see each other clearly. The Christian life isn’t meant to be lived alone, and following God’s commandments isn’t meant to be a solitary exercise, (as Jesus noted was the practice of many so-called “pious” scribes and Pharisees).

So how do we live a life in relationship with others and “fulfill the law and the prophets”, as Jesus said that he came to do? A look at the readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Psalms begin to give examples of some of the things that Christians should be doing. Isaiah talks about loosing the bonds of injustice, breaking the yokes of the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing those without clothes, and opening your own house to the homeless. The Psalmist calls for lending generously, conducting your affairs with justice, and giving to the poor. Jesus, later in the Gospels, will echo these examples, and more. And in all of these examples, we are not doing things for ourselves, but for others.

Here in these examples we see the embodiment of “the greatest commandment”.  We show our love for God and our obedience to his law by serving others, by being “salt and light” for those we interact with every day. We do these things, not because the law tells us that we have to do these things to get to heaven, but as a offering – the “fast” that God chooses to accept – in thanks and praise for the love and grace that God has shown to us, through the sacrifice of Jesus and the granting of the Holy Spirit.

“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” Jesus calls us to live out our faith through our relationships with those around us – neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and all those who we meet in our daily lives. We are all called to be the “city on a hill”, and to “let your light so shine before others” that we will, through our lives, glorify God and help make disciples of all the earth. Where will your “salt” enrich someone this week? Where will your “light” brighten the lives of another? May Jesus guide us to fulfill God’s law and truly become the “city on the hill”.

Hymn: Gather Us In (Marty Hagen)

Blessing: God sends us forth, promising to strengthen us for the work we are called to do. The grace of God is given us; the peace of Christ goes with us, and the presence of the Holy Spirit strengthens us for our tasks. Go, be the light of the world. Amen. (Rev. Dr. Steven F. Plymale)

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