Above: A Forest Scene in the Morning
The Light of the World
FEBRUARY 9, 2014
FEBRUARY 5, 2017
Isaiah 58:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):
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 seek 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 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 parched 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.
Psalm 112 (New Revised Standard Version):
Praise the LORD!
Happy are those who fear the LORD,
who greatly delight in his commandments.
The descendants will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness, as a light for the upright;
they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal graciously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn is exalted in honor.
The wicked see it and are angry;
they gnash their teeth and melt away;
the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16) (New Revised Standard Version):
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Yet 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. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, 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 him–
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For 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. Now 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. [And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?
But we have the mind of Christ.]
Matthew 5:13-20 (New Revised Standard Version):
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.
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Once I concluded a Saturday afternoons-only World History II course with a classroom screening of The Battle of Algiers, the great Italian film about asymmetrical urban warfare between French and Algerian forces in Algiers, Algeria, in 1956 and 1957. Filmed in 1965 and released the following year, this movie shows how French and Algerian forces took turns attacking each other, always with lethal results, often the death of innocent people who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of my students commented during our discussion time that the cycle of violence was pointless. She was correct. Mohandas Gandhi stated that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” rule leads to a world full of blind and toothless people.
The readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, flow naturally from those for the Fourth Sunday. Likewise my thoughts for the Fifth Sunday fit well with those for the Fourth Sunday. My thoughts for the Fifth Sunday are these:
To the extent that we are bound by our sins we have ourselves to blame. The rope we use to tie up ourselves and each other most often is fear. Many pundits, politicians, and well-meaning people who sit around “country kitchen” restaurant tables most mornings drinking coffee and pretending to solve the problems of the world tell us that we need be afraid–very afraid. They tell us to fear those who disagree with us, and not to cooperate with them, even on matters of agreement. They say that we must fear those who are different from us, whether linguistically, racially, ethnically, culturally, or according to another criterion.
There are dangerous people in the world, of course, and therefore legitimate reasons for healthy fear. Some people want to kill, wound, or maim others, for example. Certain individuals lack any conscience. They are truly bad men and women. Yet in this devotion I write of irrational, ideological, destructive, and needless apprehension. That is my focus for now.
So certain media outlets–such as websites, radio shows, and television programs and channels–attract large audiences and reap huge profit margins by scaring people and spreading rumors. Some politicians spread lies, which many of their constituents are willing to believe. And the common good suffers.
All this runs contrary to love. When we cease to fear each other needlessly and begin listen to each other and to help each other as able we find that we have more in common than we might have suspected previously. We realize that the other person is really human, too. We discover common ground upon which to build and to enact actions for the common good. Disagreements will continue, but they need not lead to hostility. Besides, no mere mortal is correct or incorrect about everything. And this can help facilitate righteousness and bring us closer to the mind of Christ.