Friday, February 7, 2020

Hebrew and Gospel Texts for Sunday 9 February 2020

Isaiah 58.6-7  
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose 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?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly

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.”
Reflection        It was the day I moved to Arizona to begin my first job as an Episcopal priest. Wandering through labyrinthine miles of mall I lamented, “Maybe today God can help me find my way through this confounding maze. How can I possibly be a priest if I cannot even find Sears?” Resisting the urge to exit stage right, I glumly scuffed along until I noticed a strange collection of objects stacked at the front door of a store. Curiosity drew me to the cache of craggy pinkish things.

They  turned out to be rock salt harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. Some of the salt crystals were made into lamps, other stood on their own. As I picked them up and inspected their rough angularity I wondered, “Why am I so attracted to these crystalline lumps?”  Remembering my mission I interrupted the clerk who was regaling me with the details of this salty find, ”Where in the world is the Sears store?” Smiling he apprized me, “You are on the wrong side of the mall.”

Eventually I found my way to Sears. While waiting for a second clerk to schedule delivery of my washer, dryer and vacuum cleaner I found my mind inspecting the eccentric pillars of pink salt and wondering, “Why am I so attracted to these craggy crystals of sodium chloride? Why can’t I get them out of my mind?” 

With delivery set for my Sears essentials I retraced my steps to the Salt Store and without hesitation paid for the first pink pillar I picked up, walk out of the store and ‘heard’ Jesus’ words in the depths of my being, “You are the salt of the earth.” I sat down and wept.

Right there in the midst of the unhallowed mall the God who promises to ‘strengthen my limp hands and steady my feeble knees” gave me exactly what I needed, assurance of God’s presence. Believers such as my enthusiatic sales person claim this jagged pink pillar cleans the air, soothes allergies, boosts your mood and helps you sleep. But my zealous clerk did not overhear this fanciful pink pillar speaking to my anxious heart,“You are the salt of the earth.”

What does it mean to be salt of the earth? I believe it means we are meant to enhance the flavor of God’s Presence on earth by telling the stories of the ways in which we have been surprised by God. By a salt pillar or an orange offered by a homeless man, in the death of a loved one or the birth of a new one, in an unexpected benefit or an anonymous thank you, in a dream, a poem or book that falls off the shelf into your hands at exactly the right moment, in an “ah-hah” realization or a flash of forgiveness.

Which brings us to Jesus’ second proclamation,“You are the light of the world.” If we are indeed the light of the world, (and who is going to argue with Jesus?) then we are meant to “let our light shine before others.” “What is this light that we are meant to shine before others?”  First let us consider what this light is not. It is not a spot light directing focus onto our performance. This light is not intended to  announce how important, powerful, exceptional, smart, enviable, rich, secure, influential, lovable, competent, impressive or even acceptable we are. 

The light we are meant to “shine before others” is the Light of Christ risen within us, the light that makes God’s Presence known in ordinary, unexceptional, even undesirable circumstances. The light that makes God’s Presence known in our impotence, incompetence and innocence. The light of Christ within us glows like the soft pink light from the heart of a pillar of salt, enhancing the flavor of God’s Presence on earth by telling the stories of the ways in which we have been surprised by God. 

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