Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 58:1-9a; Psalm 112:1-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20 (NRSV) (KJV)

It seems to me that in these three readings for today we have the core of God’s message to humanity.

From Isaiah we learn that God wants not pro forma ritual like elaborate fasting—sackcloth and ashes—but loosing the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of the yoke meaning hard servitude like slavery, letting the oppressed go free and even breaking the institution of servitude.

He goes on to say that we should share our bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our home, cover the naked and don’t shun your own kin.

If one lives in this manner, they will be a light in the darkness of a society that looks but doesn’t see, that listens but doesn’t hear, that often chooses to ignore the unfortunate. It was true in the time that Isaiah wrote; it is true today.

Paul writes that when we open ourselves to the mystery of God as revealed in the life and words of Jesus Christ, then we open ourselves to the spirit of God which gives us the gifts we need to be faithful and effective Christians. These are the gifts which begin in power with our baptisms.

It is through the spirit, Paul tells, that we are able together to discern God’s will for us. As Paul writes, it is Christ who reveals for us the mind of God.

We are all disciples of Christ just as surely as his core disciples and Matthew writes of these two analogies Jesus makes regarding his disciples. He says we are the salt of the earth—even today it conveys that a person is down to earth, rock solid. But to use the imagery of salt conveyed the image that these who heard were of great value.

Salt was so essential to life that Roman legionnaires were paid in salt because it could always be exchanged for other goods. It in the right amounts is essential to human life.

But Jesus cautions that even salt can be considered useless if it has lost intensity.

He goes on to say that they are the light of the world, that there is no way that they can hide from this role and by showing that light they will give glory to God in heaven. This is the same light that will fill Israel if it does the will of God in taking care of others.

Then Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law of Moses; in fact he is the embodiment of that law.

Against the view of the scribes and Pharisees, he says that he has not come to violate the law or change it. In fact there are echoes of the prophet Isaiah, not following the form of the law but living the spirit of it—meeting the needs of the poor and the marginalized.

Those who help others to learn the Christian life are particularly blessed. And that is one of our missions here at St. John’s. We nurture our children as they are formed by this community to become what Jesus called the kingdom of God.

Over the last several days I have been particularly taking by the modern human propensity to compartmentalize. We behave one way in a particular set of circumstances and quite differently in others, not because we are hypocrites but because we have compartmentalized our lives.

The way modern society runs there are great pressures to live this way. Once upon a time in our agrarian society all parts of human existence functioned as the fabric of a single cloth. Today, we bring different parts of our skills even ethical and moral aspects to different parts of life.

Jesus calls us today to overlay the fabric of high functioning Christianity to bear on all the parts of our lives. Recently I watched a movie about the Civil War, and the actors depicted a people for whom faith was not tucked away to be drawn out in a specific situation but a people who lived their faith.

They would relate specific verses of scripture or Christian concepts to the situation they were in. That was an earlier age but what about now?

I have observed that our faith expression provides the guides we need. They are found in Jesus’ pronouncement that all the Law and the teachings of the prophets are found in pursuing two interrelated behaviors—love God first and love one’s neighbor as we love ourselves.

It is found in the promises we have made in our baptismal covenant. It is inherent in the welcome we do our best to offer all persons.

These tenets will stand us in good stead if we will but pause in our daily activities to see what opportunities are around us to put into practice the promises we have made and the guidance we have been given.

Each Sunday we hear scripture read, not because most people don’t have the habit of regular scripture reading but because it instructs us in how God has called people to live through the ages, as they have understood it, and how Jesus has revealed the mind of God.

Our task is to learn from this exercise and apply it to all parts of our lives.