Fifth Sunday after Epiphany 5 February 2017
(Isaiah 58:1-12 Psalm 112 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 Matthew 5:13-20)
“Coming out of Hibernation!”
This past Thursday as I sat down at my computer to begin putting on paper the beginning thoughts for this sermon, suddenly the news shot across my email that Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow.
I had forgotten that it was Groundhog Day, by tradition the day for forecasting the arrival of spring, a forecast made not by meteorologists with computers, but by men in tall hats and furry mittens – and a groundhog. Go figure!
So, Phil saw his shadow and returned to his lair for six more weeks of hibernation! And just for the record, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of six more weeks of winter is not the theme of my sermon. The definition of hibernation is: to spend time in a dormant position.
The title of this sermon: “Coming out of Hibernation!” Come out of your dormant positions! These might as well be the words of Jesus!
Let’s go to the Gospel. There’s a lot going on here! Jesus is still on the mountain. Just finished giving the Beatitudes. He’s talking about Torah. About not abolishing the Law. He wants the Torah read not from the context of sin, but in the context of the Kingdom. The Reign of God has begun. The measure of righteousness is no longer human pettiness but rather, the abundance of God’s love!
Then he uses two images: light and salt. We’ve all heard a lot of preaching on these two images over the years. Normally we hear how salt was used as a preservative; also, how salt makes food taste better.
I’m giving you a third perspective this morning. Here it is: Salt makes you thirsty. So when Jesus says, “You are salt,” I’m suggesting Jesus is saying to us, “You better be thirsty!” (I’ll say more about this in a few moments.)
Second image is Light: “Your light must shine before others so they can see your good works.” Doing good things is a good thing! That is how we usually hear it preached.
I want to give you a slightly different perspective. To do that, I need to do a little “show and tell.” I’ve asked Tim to help me. I don’t know if it will work as well this morning as it did last evening, but you will just need to be very attentive. Tim will turn out the lights and then in a minute or two they will come back up. This is what I need from you: I need for you to tell me what you see happening when the lights come back up. Watch very carefully! [Lights out, then on!]
Because the lights come on very slowly, it is as if we can actually see the light pushing back against the darkness. [Light pushing against the shadows!] We miss that movement when we flip a switch to turn lights on.
So I want to take those two unique perspectives and try to unpack them a little bit during the remainder of my sermon.
1.) Salt. Jesus says, “You are salt! You better be thirsty!” The question to struggle with this morning is: What/Who am I thirsting for? Your answer to that question is your answer alone.
2.) Light. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world!” The question to struggle with this morning is: Where/What is the darkness in your life that you need to push back against? I will add that I believe darkness is not only around us, but can be within us. Your answer to that question is your answer alone.
In Isaiah 58 there is a Worship & Music Committee meeting going and, although the Committee is eager to know God’s ways, they are struggling to know how worship fits into everyday life. The Message translates it this way, “They are busy, busy, busy at worship!” Isaiah is clear. He says privatized religious worship that ignores exploitation of the most vulnerable is simply bad faith. True worship, Isaiah says, loosens the chains of injustice, sets the oppressed free, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and shelters the wanderer” [Is 58:6-7].
This Isaiah text is a poem describing the leaders of the Jewish community returning from exile and trying to figure out how to rebuild Jerusalem, how to revitalize the community. Isaiah knows from deep within that to thirst for the very heart of God is to realize that any oppression of one group against another will never work. It will not work because we will then suffer the disappearance of the quality of human life when a whole group of people cannot belong and another whole group of people cannot exist. That is the tragedy the poet of Isaiah 58 recognizes and is crying out against. Let’s come back to us!
What are we thirsting for in our lives today?
Who are we thirsting for in our lives today?
Where is the darkness we need to push back against?
What is the darkness we need to push back against?
I believe we are thirsting for the very heart of God to be close to us, as a healing presence, as a challenging voice, as a beacon of hope and direction.
I believe we are thirsting for the justice of God even when we do not see justice around us.
I believe we are thirsting to have a sufficient spirit to keep on caring, so as not to slip into apathy.
I believe we are being called to push back against silence in the face of public fear.
I believe we are being called to push back against discouragement and frustration that serves as an excuse to be intolerant to each other.
Finally, hear this Good News.
The Good News is that in our moments of uncertainty or exhaustion, there is a wondrous promise and claim that we all are cared for and loved by God, that we all belong, one to another. This promise is given with marvelous authority.
Ours is not a mission impossible. Ours is not a dormant hibernation. Ours is a Baptismal covenant to push back against the darkness of our times and to thirst for the intimacy and justice of Jesus. This ultimate promise and claim is the patient grace of God, because only by God’s light do we become salt and light! Amen.