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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany 5A February 5, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...we need to actually show people that they are, in fact, salt and light. So I suggest starting a "Salt & Light Log." Really. Start asking people to collect examples of where God has worked through them to help someone else."

"Salt and Light," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"God's perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Almighty God, giver of all things, give us grace to be salt with flavor so that we may be helpful in spreading the good news of your kingdom.  Give us wisdom to be light in the world, not hidden but shared, so that people may not only hear of your love for them but find their way into your loving embrace.  Let our salt and light be not only words but actions that honor by serving our neighbor.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage follows on the heals of the sermon on the mount. However, most everyone did not read that passage last Sunday in our Episcopal tradition but skipped over to Luke for the presentation in the temple and the prophesies by Ana and Simeon.

In this weeks passage Jesus turns his attention to his followers and begins to expand his teaching.  What is interesting is that salt does not actually lose its flavor!  What?! That is correct. Salt does not lose its flavor.  
Common salt comprises a very stable, simple chemical compound called sodium chloride, which has a salty flavour. As table salt, it typically also contains minor amounts of additives to keep it free-flowing.  As it is so chemically stable, sodium chloride will not lose its saltiness, even after being stored dry for many years. However, there are ways in which salt may appear to lose its saltiness.

Historically, salt has been obtained from crude sources such as salt marshes, and minerals such as rock salt. This contains the stable sodium chloride plus other components. Sodium chloride is readily water-soluble, so if this crude salt were exposed to condensation or rain water, the sodium chloride could be dissolved and removed, and the salt could in effect lose its saltiness. 
Also, the salty flavour is detected by our sense of taste. If there were a physiological change in the functioning of our taste buds, salt consumed may no longer taste the same, but this would not be due to any inherent change in the salt itself.
In summary, salt, i.e. sodium chloride, is a very stable material which retains its properties when stored dry. (By Peter Stotereau, 10 Jul 2010 / Chemistry,

What I also found interesting is that salt did, in the religious tradition of Jesus' day, become unclean and was to be thrown away.  When it was ritually pure it was used in the temple to season incense and it was even added to the offerings.)  So...salt was a big deal in the life of Israel and in the life of emerging societies that depended upon it as a preservative.  The basic image nevertheless is a powerful one...salt without its saltiness really isn't any good to anyone.

Jesus then also gives a very practical understanding about light and how people don't go around wasting perfectly good (and expensive - as candles were a luxury) light. Interestingly, candles are mostly associate with worship.  Jesus may be speaking about a lamp here which is probably more likely and more relevant to his hearers' ears. That being said light in darkness was an important and life giving ingredient to humanity.  Think about it also... a typical home only had one opening...the light would only go through a door - no windows. We are to pour light out into the world like a city. And, if we remember our past lesson - even though it was from Luke, Jesus is light in our darkness.  Again...there is a lot going on here.  

Both of these images begin to shape Jesus' expectations of us...that we not remain disciples, but that we become apostles. That we not simply follow Jesus but that we are meant to go out and be an example to others.  We are to change lives by reflecting the life of Jesus. Sometimes I think we get into trouble by trying to reflect other things...but Jesus is saying, "Be salt as I am salt in the world. Be light as I am light in the world." 

Jesus reminds us that there are very faithful people who are members of the family of God. They are good, they try to be good, they do their very best at trying to do the right thing.  Jesus adds thought and says that really isn't enough.  Being a really good person is ok...but if it is focused on you then we may have a little problem.  We are to share what we have in God and what we have found in God.

Jesus is talking about something very different.  Religion is most often about the individual coming to a certain sacred place, doing sacred acts, and so receiving an invitation to be closer to the divine.  Jesus is saying that the divine one is out in the world and all about us.  God is present and when we serve others on God's behalf his presence is multiplied.  Jesus is offering a view of faith that is far more than simply bing good and following the rules.  This is really an expansive view that is not limited to the holy shrine of choice.

Jesus is offering a vision of where the law to love God and love neighbor becomes rooted in the heart where love and compassion are found.  That we are to love, have compassion, offer mercy without partiality to all those we come upon.  Here is how Chris Haslam describes this change:
"One of the ways he fulfills the Law is by looking at its intent and not just the words used to express it. (For example, the Law says you shall not murder but Jesus says, in effect, you shall attempt never to impair your relations with another person.) Whoever regards the Law as he does, even if he or she fails sometimes, will gain entry into the Kingdom."
Jesus is saying that we are to be perfect in moving beyond the law.  You cannot fulfill the law if you are not in healthy thriving relationships with others.  Moreover, it isn't enough to love the ones you love and hate the ones you hate.  Jesus expects the relationship to go far beyond the expected - you are to love the ones you love and love the ones you hate.  Here is what is crazy!  In the regular way things work the old law is based upon ho the other person (other than yourself) treats you.  Fred Craddock says this well:
"The flaw in such relationships is that they are entirely determined by the other person: the one who is friendly is treated as a friend; the one who behaves as an enemy is an object of hatred; the one who speaks is spoken to; the one who spurns is spurned."
Jesus is then bad...the difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge says this or that...wisdom says  No matter how they treat  No matter what they  Do not become like them!  You are God's so be like God.  Craddock continues with these words:
"Jesus says that one’s life is not to be determined by friend or foe but by God, who relates to all not on the basis of their behavior or attitude toward God but according to God’s own nature, which is love. God does not react, but acts out of love toward the just and unjust, the good and the evil. God is thus portrayed as perfect in relationships, that is, complete: not partial but impartial. God’s perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."
So there it is...God in Christ Jesus is challenging us to the law and more.  This is how salt and light keep their flavor and how they are shared with others.  For in acting as God acts the world is truly stumped by such grace. And, it is transformed in the face of such abundant grace and love.

As a bishop we talk a lot about why the church is shrinking in size and why people don't find us helpful ingredients in their recipe to find God or light in their pilgrimage to God's embrace.  The real reason is that we have gotten really good at the law part and we really fail to be like God.  We are to love, to not react, but to act always out of love, to do this to the just and unjust, to love those who are good and those who are bad. We like God are to have a complete impartiality with others.  That my friends is difficult and it is certainly not an abolishing of the law but rather an increase of its precepts.  

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 2:1-16

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"...Paul's understanding of the Spirit is different from that of the Corinthians, who see the Spirit in terms of miracle and power. For Paul the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and brings to life again that same Christ of the cross."

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

"And so one more time we see that the story we tell about the cross of Christ becomes the measure by which the stories of our own communities are judged."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16), J.R. Daniel Kirk, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"It is better to speak of "learning Jesus," rather than of "knowing Jesus," because we are concerned with a process rather than a product."

"Learning Jesus," Luke Timothy Johnson. Spiritual intimacy through Christ, adapted from Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (1999). Republished at Religion OnLine.

Paul is a simple guy. He is not a philosopher. He was probably educated and he was certainly a man who knew the law. He was a business man and a tent maker.  But Paul was pretty simple and he reminds us of this fact in the first verses of today's lesson. It is as if he is saying, "Look you guys. You like philosophers and lofty words of wisdom. That isn't me. I am a normal guy. But I know this...I know and have come to know God in Christ Jesus and his cross.

It isn't so much an educated vs. non-educated thing. Hardly! In fact it is simply not about signs, symbols, and philosophies.  It is instead about ministry.  It is about our response to God. It isn't about being a hypocrite or not but rather about responding to God.  The cross is a symbol of how God humbled himself, how God became one of us, it is about weakness, and it is about giving oneself over for and on behalf of the others.  Jesus' death on the cross is a symbol of what our ministry is to be like. Transformation comes not from power or convincing someone of a right argument. Instead transformation comes from humility and love and the giving up of oneself and ones agenda so others amy hear clearly the love of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

The people of Corinth are so focused on the arguments and words of their leaders (almost like a fundamentalist) that they are missing the whole point of Jesus' mission.  Paul is actually completely undermining and then reconstructing their understanding of "wisdom."

David Lose in his blog says this, "Paul sets the disputes in Corinth on a cosmic stage: to side with those who advocate worldly wisdom is to side not with the God who saves by means of the cross but, instead, with those who blindly warred against God's wisdom by crucifying the Lord of glory (2:8)." Yikes!  

(One has to wonder if how we treat one another, our councils/conventions, and our way of running our churches exemplifies the cross of christ or the wisdom of this world?  As they say, "Houston we have a problem!")

Paul then challenges us in our own current mission context.  Are we attempting to attract people because of our superior learning? Are we hoping they will be drawn to Christ because of some measurement (way of reading the bible, way of worshiping, or social class/education).  Are we merely attracting people to our way of being church? If so then Paul seeks to undermine us.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 58:1-12

This passage is written while the Israelites are divided, most in exile in Babylon and a few in the homeland. The prophet invites, and God invites the people to remain faithful. God is faithful and God will move on behalf of God’s people.

While the people see faithfulness as turning inward and to God by fasting, God and Isaiah offer these words:

“[God desires a fast that] looses the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” God offers a mirror to the people an is clear – when you do none of these things you are most unlike your God and the people you are meant to be.
Remembering Jeremiah and other prophets over the past months, we know that God see righteousness not as simple religious faithfulness but as acts of bounty where people take care of the oppressed, loosen the yoke of another, help with food for the hungry, roofs for the homeless, and clothing for the naked. Here Isaiah prophesies that these are the kinds of true fasting and sacrifices that God declares as righteousness.

When this happens Isaiah tells the people: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

God desires that people, “remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Light is the light of God’s actions through his people. Light comes by means of work of the faithful for the other.

When nations forget their most vulnerable they shall lie in ashes and sackcloth. When the vulnerable are cared for light, life, and the rebuilding of community are the results. Foundations of generosity will lead to generations of strength among the people.

The Luke writes in his Gospel that this release of people who suffer is key to the very nature of God and especially to the person and mission of Christ Jesus. When in chapter 4, Jesus opens the scroll to read in the temple it is Isaiah 61 with the addition of this passage. What is made clear in Luke’s analysis and use in the narrative is that God has been about the work and care of the poor, oppressed, homeless, helpless, and most vulnerable. God in Christ Jesus continues this mission of righteousness (the caring of others). The jubilee promised to the slaves in Egypt, and the jubilee promised to the people in Babylon is the same jubilee promised for all people under the yoke of Christ. (Richard B Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 224ff)

Release is not only for prisoners (Isaiah 61) but release for all people who are broken and burdened (Isaiah 58). This is a freedom brought on the cross and given through the Holy Spirit to all people. The promise to Abraham and the of Moses and Isaiah now become fulfilled in ministry of Jesus and the inclusion of the whole world. Moreover, that the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ministry are to continue the work of release – this same faithfulness and righteousness will be the hallmark of the every continuing body of Christ in the world.

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