Homily – 2/9/2020 – Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

(No Audio this Sunday – see text below)

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The passage we hear from Matthew’s gospel this morning is rich with imagery. It is an excerpt from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. [And it’s really more than Ican really do justice to in a short homily.] Aside from that, the passage we heard Mackenzie read from the book of Isaiah is equally rich and is profoundly connected with what Jesus is saying in the gospel.

For me, there’s a question that lingers behind these two readings: “Who do we think we are?” 

Behind God’s words expressed through the prophet Isaiah is a people to think they are righteous but are not. A people who think they please God but do not. Isaiah 58:6 To please God is “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free—to share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into your house, when you see them naked to cover them.” When this has been done, and onlywhen this has been done, 58 verse 8, “thenyour light shall break forth like the dawn.” And verse 12, “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” “Who do you think you are?”—you humble yourselves and think you are righteous, but you “oppress all your workers, and strike with a wicked fist.”The implication is that they think they are a people whose light is shining in the world, but who are actually holding back the dawn.

Behind Jesus’ words expressed in Matthew’s gospel is that same emphasis on righteousness. The starting point is different. Isaiah’s words are addressed to a people who have are delusional about who they are. Jesus’ words seem to be addressed to a people who need to stay true to who they are. 

I love that here Jesus uses two images that are so everyday, so essential, and so ubiquitous, that they are still relevant 2000 years later. Salt. Light. These are the starting points—and yet both can be diluted and obscured.

When I was young I thought that the song, “this little light of mine” had a verse about a bush. I didn’t know the word “bushel” back then, and so I assumed we were singing, “hide it under a bush—oh no!” Very different things, but I actually got the point anyway. I imagined all those tight little branches and closely packed leaves, nicely trimmed around that open space inside the bush you could crawl under and hide in if you were playing. The light from the sun hardly gets in, so how could lamplight get out. Light is our starting point, it’s who we are, but what we do still matters. Do we smother our light, or do we allow it to shine and benefit others? And notice that in Isaiah and in Matthew, groups are being spoken to—this is not a message for an individual, but for a group.

This morning we started a conversation about racism. Racist ideas dehumanize. Racist ideas justify bondage by saying that black and brown people are more likely than white people to be criminals. Racist ideas justify poverty by saying that black people, as a group, are lazy. God’s prophetic word through Isaiah is relevant-not just in generalities but in particulars. The hungry, the homeless, the bound, the yoked—we, as a group, still somehow find this acceptable. We justify the way things are by blaming the people most impacted by the lackof justice.

But if the starting point of those who strive to follow Jesus is to be salt and light, we have work to do in our communities. We have to recognize when our light is obscured, and pull away those branches that hide it, lift that basket off of it. 

Both texts call the hearers back to themselves. The prophet calls out the people’s hypocrisy in fasting in order to appearrighteous while doing nothing for the hungry, while oppressing their workers. Jesus builds on the call to be righteous, to be in right relationship with God and one another. Jesus calls his listeners to recognize themselves as what they are and to allowthemselves to be a gift to the world. 

So—who do we, here in this place, this morning—who do we think we are? 

Sunday’s Scripture – 2/9/2020

Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

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.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

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;

your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

[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, 

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.] 

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.”