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Thursday, February 3, 2011

5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Year A

"God is light. Jesus is light. And, says Matthew's Jesus, so are you! But not as an elite, as a group of privileged people, be it Israel or Christians, who once, perhaps, were good salt, but as people living the kind of life called for in the challenge of the beatitudes."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 5," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

Matthew 5:13-2013“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text

Textweek General Resources

Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from Matthew

Some interesting articles on this passage:
William Loader's "First Thoughts"

Chris Haslam's technical notes and clippings for all the readings

Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today

And a two other pieces by Fred Craddock:

"You, Therefore, Must Be Perfect," commentary by Fred B. Craddock in The Christian Century, 1990. At Religion Online.

"Two Areas for Faithfulness," commentary by Fred B. Craddock in The Christian Century, 1990. At Religion Online.

PrayerRemove from our midst all false accusation and malicious speech, that our words may season the world with the flavor of the gospel. Let the light of your own justice so shine in our lives, that all may see our good works and give you the praise and glory.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts...
We continue with the second part of the introduction to the sermon on the mount; expanding on the themes of who God is and who we are to be in light of God's mission. Last week we had the "blessings" this week we continue with images of salt and light. I want only to mention briefly how important it is here to help those reading these texts in bite size pieces to understand that we are reading a whole piece of narrative from the Gospel of Matthew and consequently a whole piece of Jesus' teaching.

This is important in part because the theme of being salt and light are connected with the theme of blessings. 

Jesus first offers the image of being salt in the world.  Salt gives flavor and is connected with the act of making temple sacrifices.  Salt purifies and preserves as in Leviticus 2:13 and Ezekiel 43:24 (Daniel Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, p 80).  We are to be salt.  If we remember the idea that we are blessed by the mission of working with God as God's family then we can easily see that the challenge of being salt in the world is an important metaphor. How often have we allow the world around us to add flavor to our mission and ministry as opposed to adding flavor to the world around us.  What would it look like if the congregations of the Episcopal Church were known for adding flavor to the community in which we find our congregations and institutions? 

Recently I was having a conversation with an individual who is a self-proclaimed agnostic. As we had a delightful conversation I became painfully aware that he did not believe that the church added any value to the community in which it finds itself.  We as Anglicans and Episcopalians have always believed we are in particular and contextual ministries.  We have always claimed that we added flavor to the community life around us.  Is that true for you as an individual?  Is it true for the community in which you worship?  Can we with pride say that we are adding flavor and value within our missionary context?

Jesus continues with the image that we are the light of the world. This image is linked to Isaiah 2:2-5.  Daniel Harrington writes, "The light image is part of the invitation to Israel: 'O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.'...Israel's vocation is to be a 'light to the nations.'  Paul picked up this theme of Israel's vocation in Romans 2:19 ('a light to those who are in darkness').  The light imagery is developed in the saying in 5:15-16 in which Jesus' followers are challenged to active engagement in their 'good works.' (Matthew, p 80)

This is the vision of the new Israel that Jesus is about the work of recreating.  This is how we will know we are in the midst of the new reign of God.  The nations shall see a great light.  We will be adding flavor to life and the world around us. 

Jesus himself speaks of how this message of blessing and the image of being a nation upon a mountaintop are connected to the Torah. As I mentioned last week.  The Matthean theme is one which sees Jesus and the kingdom of Heaven proclaimed in this Gospel as a continuation of the righteous law of the prophets. Jesus is the fulfilment.  Our new way of living as salt and light are the next pieces of the Torah narrative. 

For Matthew this language of Torah, blessedness, and righteousness do not mean "law" they refer to the purpose of the people of God.  Matthew understood Jesus to be continuing to build upon sacred foundations formed in the desert journey of Israel.  Jesus' teaching on the mount is the renewed teaching of Moses at Sinai.  The followers of Jesus like the whole hosts of Abrahamic relatives have been created and are given the particular and unique work of building the kingdom of God through mercy, justice, and kindness. 

The Matthean scholars Davies and Allison write the following reflection on the two parables of salt and light:
The summary descriptionof the disciples as salt and light, a description which fits those who live as 5.21-7.12 will detail, has the while world (the cosmos) as its backdrop.  This implies that the Gentile mission is presupposed.  The followers of Jesus are alt and light for all, for Jew and Gentile the world over.  So Matthew's unversalism is once more apparent.  No less apparent is the evangelist's exalted estimation of the ecclesia's role in the religious life of humanity.  If the church does in fact consist of those who are 'the salt of the earth' and 'the light of the cosmos', then the church must be the primary locus of God's activity in and for all people.  'What the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world.' (Diognetus, Ep. 6.1)

The Lambeth Bible Study Method

This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

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