This is a little late getting posted, I preached it on Feb 5, 2017. We have now reached spring in NB, though there was snow a few days ago.
It is winter here in New Brunswick and with winter comes darkness. In the winter we have short days, cold, storms, and for those in the northern part of the province this past week, lengthy power outages (now at 11 days). Even though the days have been getting gradually longer since Dec 22nd, by February 2nd if we are not planning trips to warmer climes, we are looking with longing ahead to spring, the light at the end of the tunnel of winter. On the 2nd there were reports from around North America about whether or not famous groundhogs like Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, Mactacaddy, of Mactaquac Provincial Park, and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, saw their shadows and thus predictions on 6 more weeks of winter or not. If we lived in the far north we would literally have been in the dark from early October and looking forward to the first sunrise in March. We do not like the dark!
If you have been following the news from the US and Canada in the past several weeks you are aware that there seems to be an increase in the intensity of the dark in the world: US President Donald Trump is still planning to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he plans to cancel trade deals such as NAFTA, the US Congress has a bill on the books proposing to withdraw the US from the United Nations, executive orders have been signed banning travel into the US by people from 7 majority Muslim countries for 90 days, and immigration from there for 120 days. On January 28th a mosque was burned down in Texas, and on the 29th Alexandre Bisonette opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec killing 6 and injuring 8. And all along the way we have had facts, and alternative facts blurring the lines of truth so that it is sometimes hard to know what to believe.
While we may be particularly concerned with these events and trends, they are really not so different from the darkness that has always been at work in the world. Take heart in the words from the Psalm we just read,
“…those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments…They are gracious, merciful, and righteous…are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. (Psalm 112: 1,4,7)”
And look forward to see what we, as those who delight in God and as disciples of Christ, are meant to be in the world. In Isaiah we read what God wanted from Israel rather than self-serving fasting,
“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, 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…” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
As Jesus moves on from the final beatitude, “11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11), he begins the next section of the chapter with, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world (Matt 5:13,14). There are a couple of things to note in those statements. First, he is speaking to a crowd, when he says “you” it is in a corporate sense, all of you. Second, he doesn’t say you will become, or you might be, but states as a fact already accomplished, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”
What do salt and light do? Salt is used to enhance and alter the taste of food, to preserve food, and salt’s power comes from its distinctiveness when mixed with other things. If salt loses its flavour, its distinctiveness, it becomes useless. Scott Hoezee says,
“The implication for disciples is exceedingly curious: it means that we exist for mixing it up with the world. It means that for us to do our savory gospel task of making this world a better place, we need to be out there, being mixed up into people, culture, and society. Following hard on the heels of his Beatitudes, Jesus is saying that if you’re going to live those grace-filled attitudes, then it’s not enough to work inside the church community, it’s not enough to nurture a strong interior life of spirituality. No, the result of all your piety must be pouring yourself out onto this earth so as to bring out life’s complex and beautiful flavors.
To be useful and true salt, you need to mix into the world, bringing with you gospel savor…But literal salt that never leaves the shaker does nothing to add zing to your French Fries, and likewise Christian disciples who never interact with non-Christian people have no chance of reaching those people with the influence of that whole new world of God that just is the kingdom.
– See more at: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5a/?type=lectionary_epistle#sthash.7JOBOTlR.dpuf” Scott Heozee
Light has several uses. First of all it allows us to see what was being hidden in the dark, allowing dangers and deceits to be cleared away. Light helps us to find our way in the dark, to recognize home, to keep ships off the rocks. It makes it so that we can delve into the dark places like mines to uncover their riches just as it allows people to find someone lost in the dark. Sunlight helps plants to grow and keeps us healthy. While we may individually be salty, it is the church, as it reflects the Gospel, which is the light. Marcia Y. Riggs puts the corporate nature of the light like this.
“Like light, the disciples as a gathered community have the overarching purpose of being the mirror that refracts God’s light so that all peoples and nations can know of God’s justice and mercy. As a gathered community the disciples are like light when they engage others in the world, enabling diversity (giving things color), nurturing a healthy, ecofriendly world (helping vegetation grow), generating policies for ecojustice (providing solar power), and restoring or repairing whatever relationships that need such (focusing for specific purposes). (Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective” on Matthew 5:13-20 in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1)
This past Thursday evening I went to a play at St. Thomas University. Titled No White Picket Fence the play by Dr. Robin Whittaker used the verbatim style to tell the stories of ten young women who consider themselves to be living well after being in the foster care system in New Brunswick. The women met individually with an interviewer, a researcher working on a study, to tell their stories and they agreed to allow their words to be used in a play which would bring their experiences into the light. For ninety minutes the audience sat in the near dark with ten wooden boxes painted as houses and ten actresses. They sat on their houses, and of course they shifted houses periodically, and when it was their turn to share a part of their story the lights in the house turned on. Some of the houses had only one or two windows lit up, but the strength of those women lit the room, not in a warm cozy way but shining light on those uncomfortable, unpleasant corners so often left in the dark. The more this light shines the stronger the impetus to work for change may become.
Back to the news, growing out of all the reports of the dark we also see stories of light. There have been; rallies against Islamophobia around the world; all sorts of people have stated publicly that they will register as Muslim if registration goes forward in the US; non-Muslims are raising money to rebuild the Texas mosque; candlelight vigils have been held for victims of fires and shootings; and in Fredericton money was donated to help the Muslim community expand their area for worship.
So what are we to be and do in the world today? We start with the words of Isaiah, God wants us to,
- loose the bonds of injustice
- undo the thongs of the yoke
- let the oppressed go free
- share your bread with the hungry
- bring the homeless poor into your house
- when you see the naked to cover them
- do not to hide yourself from your own kin
Be salty! Dare to be distinctive and speak out where others are silent. As you work to enhance and alter the world, God’s light will be seen reflecting off of you and the lost may see their way home.