The Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus said, “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.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In 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.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For 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. Therefore, 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: I want to begin today by saying thank you to everyone who attended the Annual Meeting last Sunday. I appreciate your being here and giving of your time and commitment to the life of Christ Church.
Thank you as well to our Vestry. I would like to acknowledge the service of all who served on our Vestry last year and also recognize the members of the new Vestry as they step up to serve.
The Annual Meeting was followed by a short but effective meeting of the new Vestry. I am looking forward to how the Vestry will come together to meet the challenges and growth potential of our community.
Both those meetings, and the worship that we celebrated together beforehand, reflect one of the common themes of our readings this morning. That theme of "being the light in the world" or the theme of "being the light in our world." This theme appears in both the reading from Isaiah and in the Gospel of Matthew this morning.
In both readings as well there is a reference to what might impede or contain that light.
In the Old Testament reading, there is a reference to fasting. I found it interesting that we are talking about fasting as we prepare ourselves in the weeks leading up to Lent. But more about that later.
So, in the book of Isaiah, we hear the challenge to the people around their understanding of fasting. There is the challenge to the people to consider how their religious or spiritual life was playing out in their everyday lives. It seems that the people of Israel cannot understand why God doesn't respond when they seek him or when they call out to him for righteousness. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
The Lord challenges them, to make them aware of what they are actually doing. Their fasting is an outward effort that does not reflect their inner convictions. They are going through the motions but their hearts are not involved.
"Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high."
He then goes on to say that their outward behaviors, their outward actions, need to change, but it needs to begin with a change in their inner understandings and convictions.
"If you 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,"
These actions will come from an understanding of the heart not just meeting a set of outward rules and regulations.
The reading then goes on to promise what will happen: "then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
"The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
"Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in."
Now, you may remember from my sermon a few weeks ago that we are reading from the section of Isaiah written for those who had returned from captivity and were seeking to reestablish themselves in the Land of Israel. They needed to understand, that, the way that they lived out their lives, including how they treated others was being evaluated.
If they were to be a light to the nations and draw people to the one true God would people be attracted to a religious and spiritual relationship with the "one true God" that they, as the people of Israel, the people of God, were proclaiming?
Would others living around them know how that "one true God" valued his followers? As the people of Israel lived out their faith would others see that value passed on? By watching his followers would they be drawn to the "one true God?"
The people then, as the people in Jesus' time, and we, ourselves, need to be reminded of how blessed we are to be in relationship with the Lord. How he honors us, how he desires for us to represent him to others.
I am struck by how a section of the General Thanksgiving captures this thought. The prayer is towards the end of the Morning Prayer service. We prayed it at the Morning Prayer service last week. It encourages us, and it spurs us on, to outward actions and decisions motivated by our gratitude and by our heart conviction. In the Prayer Book on page 101.
In the center of the prayer it says: "And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service,"
What a powerful image that is: "not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves"
It is not just the things that we say but the things that we do that are important in our witness and testimony.
With that image and the earlier one, of being the light in the darkness, in mind let us move on to the Gospel reading for this morning.
Let's briefly look at the context of what we are hearing in the passage. Jesus has just shared the Beatitudes with his disciples and then he goes on to illustrate how important it is that the disciples comprehend their new role and responsibilities.
In the ministry that we belonged to before I was ordained, we used to talk about "the mantle of leadership."
A brief definition of a mantle is "an important role or responsibility that passes from one person to another."
An example of this is the story of Elijah and Elisha. You can find that story in 1 Kings 19 and 2 Kings 2.
So, when someone was asked to lead in some way we understood that they were taking up the "mantle " of that role. We responded to them in the role, because of the role and all its responsibilities.
In this context, Jesus is saying to the disciples you are no longer your own, you represent me. You need to reflect all that I have taught you and all that I will teach you. He speaks about salt and how it flavors everything it comes in contact with.
Then he speaks to them about their role as bringers of light into the darkness of the world.
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In 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.
This is heart conviction shown to the world in all their relationships and attitudes. This is not "lip service" this is sacrificial living. This is taking up the mantle of discipleship and living it out sacrificially before all those they came in contact with. This is fasting with purpose. How can we take up that mantle ourselves? How can we seek to be the light in the world we live in today?
On Wednesday the church celebrated The Feast Day of Brigid of Kildare. I want to read a short background on who St Brigid was, and then read the Collect written for her. You heard this collect before we read the readings set for today. You can find it in your Bulletin if you want to follow along. I think Brigid and her Collect are a wonderful example and reminder of being light in the world.
St. Brigid, is Ireland’s most popular saint; she may have known St. Patrick. She established a monastery at Kildare and persuaded Conlaed to bring his monks and join her. She is often depicted with a crozier or shepherd’s hook, a sign of episcopal office. We don’t know whether she was ordained a bishop, but we do know she possessed similar authority. Her love for the poor endeared her to them. (Br. Kenneth Hosley, OPC)
Wednesday Collect of the Day: Brigid of Kildare, Monastic, c. 523
O God, whose servant Brigid, kindled with the flame of your love, became a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike