Posted by Emily Sanderson on Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Readings for : Isaiah 58: 1- 12, Psalm 112: 1-9, 1
Corinthians: 2: 1- 16, Matthew 5: 13- 20
Thanks to Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 1 pgs. 314- 337
The reading from Isaiah is probably addressing the post-exillic community who
have returned from exile in Babylon and are attempting to re-establish
themselves . You can see in vs. 12 for instance a reference to how if they
live justly God will guide them and their ancient ruins will be rebuilt and
the streets will be restored.
On a positive note they seem to be "church" going and very pious in their
liturgical practice. But their worship is empty because it is purely
external practices that never touches them internally and has no impact on
the way they live their lives. What God really desires is for them to let
the oppressed go free and to share food with the hungry. And once again in
this epiphany season the imagery of light is used. When they ( and we) offer
the worship of justice and kindness their ( our) light shall rise in the
This passage is pretty straight forward , nothing subtle about it at all.
Basically it says do not be hypocrites going to worship yet not doing what
the Lord really requires. How many times do we hear this accusation thrown
out at us. Just today on the news I heard that the United Nations gave the
Roman Catholic Church a tongue lashing about abuse of children by priests.
Esther and I watched 12 Years a Slave last week. It was a very good movie
but very painful to watch to the point where I wondered what were we doing
watching the horrible socially constructed system of slavery being
manifested in the extreme cruelty of one slave owner. But certainly one of
the sub themes was how the slave owners and those who legitimized this
horrific system went to church and even lead worship for the slaves
highlighting the awful hypocrisy of it all. It was a perfect illustration of
what our reading from Isaiah is addressing. I may use it in my sermon.
But the movie also made it very clear that the faith in Jesus which the
slaves held so strongly was also a tremendous support and motivation and
hope for them.
I do not think that our reading from Isaiah is telling us to be careless
about our worship each . I do not think we should take from this that
our liturgical worship is pointless or secondary. In fact I think we
should do our best to offer God our best in worship. We should delight in
reading scripture as well as we can, preach as good a sermon as I can, and
so on. But in the end what really matters is to do justice, love kindness
and to walk humbly with God and I think our worship can help us
do just this.
In fact when we turn to our Psalm all the scholars point out that in Hebrew
it is an acrostic poem. That is the first letter of each line is the next
letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Obviously this was a technique used to help
people memorize it and thus internalize it's meaning. I think this is what
we are doing when we gather each week to remind ourselves of God's mercy and
grace in our repetitive liturgical worship. Nothing wrong with worshipping
in a different style every once in a while but our regular pattern helps
internalize the important truths of our faith.
When you look at our Psalm it seems to be teaching very similar things as
Isaiah , do justice and be kind. But it's angle is offering wisdom, wisdom
that seems counter cultural to us. Happiness is found in giving not getting
in being generous not in seeking power and fame. A good sermon could look at
In our reading from 1 Corinthians Paul definitely continues a discussion
about true wisdom and it is counter cultural. Our wisdom and power comes
from Christ and Christ crucified. Our faith does not rest on human wisdom
but on the power of God. And when we align ourselves as disciples of the
crucified one we stand with the oppressed and work for justice. Paul's
writing here requires a lot of thought or at least I do not find it easy to
understand. One beautiful and awesome thought Paul declares is that we have
the mind of Christ. P. Mark Achtemeier commenting on this says, "It further
suggests that the simple acts of generosity and caring in the life of a
congregation - acts we might be tempted to pass over lightly as people being
nice to each other-are in fact the appearance of Christ's own love bubbling
up in the lives of people in whom his spirit dwells" Beautiful thought!
Our Gospel reading is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. It would
be a good idea to consider the qualities of salt to appreciate why Jesus
would tell us that we are the salt of the earth. Jesus goes on to say that
we are the light of the world, a tremendous title because he is also the
light of the world. Jesus tells us to shine brightly , and to not hide our
light. And he seems to say that when we shine we are giving glory to God. I
think one of the best ways we can be a witness to God's love and mercy and
be used by God to draw people to God is to live with the integrity Isaiah
calls us to and the wisdom the Psalm described, through the power of the
Holy Spirit . And certainly Jesus is calling us to a life of integrity a
life that is not external show but one that touches us deeply ,"For I tell
you , unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven"
As always I am interested in your ideas about the Scripture readings. What
would you say if you were preaching this week?
Tags: isaiah babylon faith hope motivation psalm happiness corinthians paul sermon on the mount salt of the earth