Friday, February 11, 2011

"Light-Changing"



Isaiah 58:1-12
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. 2Yet 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.
3“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. 4Look, 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. 5Is 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 our God? 6Is 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? 7Is 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?

8Then 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 Holy One shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and God will answer; you shall cry for help, and the Holy One will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if 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. 11God 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. 12Your 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.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
2When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love God”— 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
Matthew 5:13-20
13“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. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to our God in heaven.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For 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. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the realm of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the realm of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the realm of heaven.

*****

Will you pray with me? Light of light, shine in our lives and hearts today. Illuminate our path; show us your way, your will. May the words we speak and hear give us guidance in the days to come. Amen.

Here’s a question for you—how can salt lose its flavour? If it gets wet, it dissolves. If it gets too hot, it dissolves—as in baking or cooking. I don’t think it can get too dry or too cold for salt… In any case, it doesn’t lose its flavour. Salt can’t lose its flavour unless it stops being salt. And here’s another thing about salt. Any cook will tell you that most recipes require salt in some form—as one of the ingredients or as part of one of the components. It is impossible to make bread without salt, for example; and even a cake needs salt. You can’t always taste it—in fact, you shouldn’t be able to taste it. If you can taste the salt in a cookie or soup or bread, the cook put in too much salt. It should simply bring out the flavour of the other ingredients—the chicken in the soup, the chocolate in the cookie. Salt is not the star of the show—but it is still salt, even though its presence isn’t obvious. It’s there and it makes a difference.

Light is like that as well. Even under that bushel basket, the light is still shining. Unless the light goes out—ceases to exit—the light is still a light, and when the basket is off, will shine out into the whole house. Or, we could say, when the bulb is burned out, and needs to be replaced—only then will the light shine.

In other words, we must be ourselves—our own authentic selves, in order to do the work we are called to do. We can’t be what our parents or teachers or managers or friends or partners, even, think we should be, if that’s different from who we really are. God calls us, uses us, as we truly are, as God has made us, as God sees us, not in the way anyone else sees us. We are the salt we are meant to be—sea salt, iodized salt, kosher salt—or the lightbulb (fluorescent, three-way, tulip) God created us to be, not what anyone else believes we should be.

Getting to that place of knowing who we are can be a difficult journey, and it is different for each of us. For some people, it means coming out of a closet—of a spiritual tradition that doesn’t fit, of a sexual orientation that is not right, of a career or job path that isn’t true to God’s plan. For others, it means letting go of an addiction—food, alcohol, drugs, sex. Whatever it might be, it is a movement into light—God’s light, that light that never is hidden.

But—and here’s the crucial thing—until we do that, until we are who we are meant to be, we cannot do the work God has for us. As long as we are not true to ourselves, we cannot be true to God, cannot do the work to which God calls us for God’s glory.

And, like the salt that doesn’t draw attention to itself as it does its work, we too are not the main attraction. We do God’s work for God’s glory, not ours. It is what we are called to do—and each of us has a different task, and each is needed, as Paul talks about when he mentions the different members of the body being needed, even the ones that don’t seem so important.

Augustine of Hippo put it this way: “It is only for the sake of God’s glory that we should allow our good works to become known.”

This is what Paul is saying to the Corinthians. He doesn’t want to be known for his education (although he had a good one) or his excellence in speaking (although he was apparently a great speaker), or his suffering for Christ (although he did suffer, a great deal). Rather, Paul wants to be known only for the word of Christ he brings, only for the good news of the gospel. “I vowed to know nothing among you except Christ, and him crucified.” Moreover, Paul says, we can’t really know Christ on our own, either—but only through the Holy Spirit’s gift. That is, we can know of Christ, but the gift of the Holy Spirit is the deeper knowledge of the reality of Christ and his presence and his acts of salvation for us. The Holy Spirit is like salt, too, you see—working through us and in us in unseen ways, giving us the flavour of God, the ability to do God’s work through our faith in Christ.

Are we salt? Are we all we are meant to be, expressing God in us through works for God? And do we bring out that flavour in others, doing our works for God without hope of—or even desire for—glory or recognition? If we aren’t, my sisters and brothers, we need to regain our saltiness. Jesus says salt can’t regain its flavour, but we are metaphorical salt—we can become the salt, the light, we are meant to be. He says a light hidden under a bushel—or, we could say, a lightbulb that is burnt out—does no one any good. Does your lightbulb need to be changed?

In whatever tradition or way you are called, be sure your light is shining; be sure your salt is salty.

In the name of the God of light, amen.


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