Below is the message from Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. The scripture lessons were: Isaiah 58:1-9a, I Corinthians 2:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 and the title was “Be the Light.”
In the newsletter that you found or will find in your box this morning, I talked about the advantages of being a pack rat. Some of you will laugh because of how I have been complaining about clutter for over a month, and now I think it is good to be a pack rat. The issue is that I keep all of my messages with the bulletin and other notes like announcements in a binder each year then this past December, I put them in a file box in chronological order. It was helpful to look at for the Historian’s report, and now I find it useful each week as we are now repeating the lectionary cycle from 2014. So now I can look back to read that former message and mostly see which scripture I used as the focus for the morning. Today, I can tell you that the last time we discussed this gospel text, I put most of the focus on the part about the salt.
While our focus three years ago was on the statement about salt, and how it flavors foods and reacts chemically, there is more to it than just that. Jesus also inferred that salt is also used as a preservative and when it loses that quality it is pretty much useless. During the time of Jesus “the Rabbis used the term Salt as an image for wisdom” (France 117). [from Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Matthew by R T France.] Add to that the “translation from the original Greek for “lost its taste” actually means ‘become foolish’” (117) and we begin to understand exactly what Jesus was saying to the disciples about not losing their ability to follow and learn and do what they are asked to do in working with him to proclaim the kingdom of God to the world. He does not want them to lose their focus and drive. He does not want them to lose their wisdom in what he teaches them and become foolish. He needs them to learn and to eventually lead. Interesting thought for us even today. And speaking of today, isn’t it true that today when we say salt of the earth people, we are talking about common, everyday, down-to-earth sort of people? That is what we here are, and we, too, need to learn from Jesus’ teachings so we can be the leaders that are of value to him.
Today, though, I want us to concentrate more on the part of that passage that involves light. As Jesus was talking to the disciples he not only told them they were the salt of the earth but also the light of the world. As I started to consider light and just how important it is in our life, I was reminded of those two days when the lights went out right after Christmas. If we put aside the fact that it was cold outside and the heat was off, the issue of not having light wasn’t really so bad until the sun went down. Am I right? During the day, it was a matter of opening the curtains, well if you have them, which on most windows we don’t but that is another story. At night there were candles or flashlights or as we were running around gathering all of those, there were the lights on the cell phones. In my bedroom, I have two kerosene lamps hanging on either side of my patio doors, and those are really handy when the lights are out because they throw lots of light, unless they are empty as one of them was. Oops. The point is that light is important, and those couple of days probably reinforced it for all of us.
I have been noticing the importance of light more and more lately and really see the difference in amount and quality of light when I am reading. I used to think that is was just the size or the particular font that made most of the difference, but I am beginning to recognize the wisdom of my mother and grandmother and great aunts when they would say that you should have good light for reading because it was bad for your eyes, maybe not so much when I was young and knew everything, but now as I get closer to their age, I see their wisdom. Light, good light is so very necessary to see what is important.
The sort of light Jesus suggests with that line about a city on a hill is more like a beacon. A beacon shines in the dark as a guide to others. Think of a lighthouse and how its light would guide sailors to the shore or light the way to help them maneuver past a rocky cliff. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be the light for others, to show them the way to him because he is the true source of all light. Jesus is also telling us to be that light for others to help point the way to him because he is the true source of all light. And that is what is expected of us as Christians to point the way to Jesus. As a Christian our light is not about attracting attention to ourselves, but showing others the goodness of Christ’s love so that they might see the way to his salvation.
The third part of this light passage seems a little “duh” yet just might be the thing that we as a church should consider more. That line about how no one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket. Of course we know that a light shouldn’t be hidden under a basket. In the first place if you are thinking about a light with a flame, covering it would choke off the air and suffocate the flame. At the least it would dim it enough that it wouldn’t be of any real use to anyone. And that is what Jesus meant both in terms of a light, and in terms of the light of guiding others to find their way to him. Jesus expects more from his disciples and his churches than just accepting his light and hiding it away for ourselves. He expects us to share our light with all around us, so they can have light too. It all goes back to that candle at our Christmas Service where we shared the light and the total light was multiplied, not divided. I believe we have seen in the past years that as we share more of our light, we have more light to share and we are brighter because of it.
Our Old Testament lesson for today might not seem to fit into this discussion about light or salt, but it fits with this idea that our light is not just for ourselves and it is certainly not to be used to make us look good. Chapter 58 of Isaiah speaks of fasting, which is something that many churches participate in during the season of Lent, which is actually right around the corner. As we have talked of in the past, this is not something we do, and passages such as this one might be part of the reason that we don’t. This passages talks about fasting to make yourself look good and that is not the intent. The true intent of fasting is to make yourself ponder and consider and concentrate on what Christ wants of your life and how to purify yourself for that work.
This passage suggests that instead of fasting for the wrong reasons we should instead take up a cause to help others. To work for justice for those around us, something that the hardcore, mainline people of our denomination are pretty outspoken about. I was reading some of the posts under the tag, UCC on the Reader part of the blog that I am on this past week and I was really upset with one of the posts that I read. There was a very negative comment about our denomination. It was all about how because we have no set in stone doctrine, we have no direction and we don’t’ look at scripture correctly and we really are not a church worthy of joining, and I so badly wanted to bite back, but realized that there was no changing that mindset. I also know that it is not a good idea to get into a urination contest with a skunk, so I just bit my lip and moved on to read something else. But it made me stop and think about the importance of our social justice work because our churches and the members of our churches are not about forcing others to believe the exact same way that we believe, but we are about taking the time to get to know each other and finding ways to work together to reach out to each other in Christ’s love. We are to be that beacon of light that points the way for others to find Christ. We are not the judge that tells them they are not worthy.
Right to life issues: Not really pro life, it is pro-birth. Someone who is really pro life believes in things that support quality of life, not just the birth of a person. I have not actually researched our local or state legislatures, but I encourage all of us to do a little “follow the money” sort of look into what they are supporting and what is being cut. Someone who is really pro life will not vote for cuts in funding for those who are at the poverty level, for school lunches, for early education intervention, for special needs children and their families or for shelters to help those who are abused and the list goes on.
In the passage Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we see that Paul was encouraging the members there to be more perfect than the law. Not to be above the law in a way that no one could reprimand them for their wrongdoing, but to do things the correct way, to treat others with respect and to act in a way that would not hurt anyone else. And when you think about doing a job and being an example, to be a good example you should do your job better than anyone else. I guess if you stop to think about it that makes good sense.
I will give you one quick example. I used to be an English teacher. I should know maybe better than some that when I write or speak I should use my own thoughts, or I need to give credit to those that I have quoted or even paraphrased. Quick side note: when I was taking classes at Northern State one summer, one of the students was kept after for a “talk.” We later learned she had plagiarized her paper quite obviously and this was her one warning. The NSU English department had a rule of dropping a student from their major if they plagiarized. I guess that conversation was to determine intent or lack of knowledge. Thus as church goers, church leaders Paul tells the people of Corinth and us that we need to follow the laws not just to be smug and say we are better than others, but as an example of what it means to live as Christ asks us to live so that we are able to point the way for others to follow him. Remember to those whom much is given, much is required, and as members of a fellowship of believers it is given to us to be positive, good examples for others, not smug, “better than anyone” sort of Christians, but true believers who are here to joyfully share our walk with Christ with all those around us. Let’s make sure we do that this week and all weeks. If we do that, we will be that light that Jesus was talking about with his disciples all those years ago. Amen!