Sunday, February 5, 2017

Year A 5th Epiphany 2017 "God Flavors & God Colors"

Year A 5th Sunday of Epiphany, 5 February 2017
“Bringing Out the God-Flavors & God-Colors”
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

Collect for 5th Sunday of Epiphany: 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 forever. Amen.

There is a delicate balance between being Good, and being a Goody-Goody. And there is an assumption if one is open to any and everybody, that “anything goes.” This is where we get those really hard, and almost impossible verses, like “Love your enemy.” Or, “Be angry, but sin not.” And, “Do good to those that hate you.” Much easier said than done.

And here is the rub. It is hard to be loving and open to any and all, while maintaining a personal ethic that is at the highest of standards. Often we are seen as guilty by association. Or judgmental prudes that are too rigid to be trusted. Jesus even got accused of being too impious hanging out with tax collectors and known sinners. (e.g. Mark 2:15-17)

The problem lies with assumptions. People make assumptions. We all do. We do it for safety. We do it for sanity. The world is big and can be scary. Whenever we encounter the other, we have been conditioned through millennia to be cautious as a species. That’s why the joke is funny, the one that goes, “Too many men’s last words are, ‘Hey, watch this!’” We have been conditioned to be cautious.

And while our cautiousness had led to hesitancy, it has also led us to laziness in dealing with difference. We assume we know things, and can make mental short cuts.

Remember, I was a Baptist pastor for a very long time. That has a certain set of assumptions that went with it. It was funny to hear of many who thought I was automatically with them, and sad to see many who assumed that I was against them. It has not changed when I go out in my collar most days. There are people who jump to many conclusions, for good or bad.

One time Steph and I were in going through a McDonald’s drive-thru because the kids were about an hour past hungry. So we thought we would grab some cheeseburgers for their sake (and our sanity). While trapped in the lane to pay and get our food, the people in the car in front of us suddenly get into quite a commotion looking back, pointing and laughing. That day all of my Anglican collared shirts, the ones that go all the way around were dirty, so I grabbed a Roman collar, the little tab ones I usually save for the summer because they are so much cooler. So it looked like, to the young people in the car in front of us that I was a Catholic priest, breaking my vows and out with my “girlfriend.” They got quite worked up about it. Hypocrisy is either infuriating or hilarious, it seems. They made assumptions. Like I said we all do.

In the Sermon on the Mount, I really feel like Jesus is giving us an instruction manual on his way of connecting with God, and living the best life we can on this earth. And it is a balancing act.

Last week we looked at the Beatitudes, as a bold statement declaring that anyone can get in on the Kingdom of God, even if you are shy, grieving, hurting, or a “loser” by this world’s standards.

This week, after he declared what it took to get in on the goodness, Jesus declares what this Kingdom will look like.

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.
What wonderful analogies! Salt of the earth, light of the world. And how are we these things? By being of service to others! The salt is used to flavor the very essence of life, food, what we consume to survive. Another way of putting it, we make this life worth living, or should. Our influence makes all the difference, and it makes the parts of life that are unpalatable bearable. We are the light that fills the house, the common oikos. The word for house here, oikos, is the Greek word that is the foundation for Economy, our common life and interaction. We are to be the part of life that helps make everything function, the grease for the gears, the light of the world. We are to be beneficial and functional, life-giving, needed and wanted.

Think, though, of the assumptions of those who would see themselves outside the church, and what assumptions do they make of us? What good do they see that we have brought to this life? So often they assume we are irrelevant snarky critics on the sidelines, who have their eyes so fixed on heaven that we are no earthly good.

Too often when I hear people who are outside the church, the nicest things they can say about us is that we are like Statler and Waldorf on the Muppets. Remember those two? The two old guys who were up in the balcony, lobbing insults and pointless one-liners to heckle the action. They are not needed, and while often laughable, what they say does not help or hurt, and often gets in the way. We are the Salt of the Earth, we are the Light of the World, not the Statler and Waldorf snarking on those that are getting things done.

Like I shared last week, especially when I teach and preach from the Sermon on the Mount, I love to look at Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation. Hear is how he translates this passage:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

And this is where we get back to the rub, where I started. Because we are putting ourselves out there, making a difference in the world, we are a target. We don’t go to the right, keeping things from happening, or to the left running ahead and not caring about what we leave in the tracks. We plant ourselves firmly in the middle, remembering all the time that those in the middle of the road can get struck both ways. But that is exactly where I think Christ wants us, and that is why he gives us this warning, once again from The Message:

“Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

[Note: normally would not put up a copyrighted image, but Boynton said on her Facebook feed, "Thank you for asking, and yes: Anyone here wanting to share this digitally, or use this as a profile picture, that's fine with me." Thank you, Sandra Boyton!]

There is a word I am hearing a lot these days. Hypocrisy. I hear it too often. The ironic part is that Jesus was the one that introduced it into our intellectual or philosophical vocabulary. The most common use of that word, is when someone is “acting” like someone or somethings they are truly not. Hypocrisy was a Greek word for “acting,” literally “Under” (hypo-) “Critique” (-crite). When someone does something on a stage they are “under criticism” or “under judgment” from all those viewing. An actor is one who steps out and declares, “Look at me!”  When we are hypocrites, we are “acting” like something we are not, and the whole world can see our “hypocrisy,” our acting.

This is where Jesus is getting to the point, we are saying that his way is The Way. And like we talked about last week, his way is Upside-Down to the rest of the World. And because of this, this is why it is so easy for Jesus and his followers to get slapped with the label of Hypocrite. Because we are a city on hill, when we let our light dim people see it, and they who notice are the first to let the Hypocrite label fly. The hard part is that it often can be true.

There is a rub there, we have to live with the Laws of God, without being legalistic. We have to live lives of purity, while wading through the muck. We have to leave the safety of the shore to reach those drowning in the undertow. This both/and is so much harder than the either/or. There is a prominent church here in Virginia, and one time the pastor got up and bragged that one could be born in a hospital sponsored by the church, go to schools founded from the church, live in neighborhood developments affiliated with the church, go to a college where the pastor is the president, spend one’s last days in a nursing home of the church, and then be buried in the church’s cemetery. When I heard this described, I had to ask, so when did you stop being the Church and become an exclusive Club? We are sent out, not called in. We are to make a difference, not fence ourselves in and stay safe. A boat may be safe in the harbor, but that is not what boats made to do. Neither are Christ’s followers. We are called to be in this Both/And existence, salt for what this world makes us swallow, light in darkened times. We are Upside-Down, and are called to remain so.

A friend of mine was protesting on Capitol Hill this week, arguing for her perspective. I won’t get into the politics, but what one of her fellow protesters struck me. One of the fellow protesters stopped her, because she (the fellow protester) was not part of the Church. She thanked my friend profusely for being a leader in the church and showing up. "The church needs to show up more!" she said. And when we are the Salt of the Earth, and the Light of the World we will show up more. We will show up, and we will be called out. We will be called Hypocrites and slandered and persecuted, and remember what Jesus said in the Beatitudes last week.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

The heavens rejoice when we master this life, getting our lives in order on the inside so we can make this world a bit more like heaven. We pray it every week, and we will in a few minutes. “On earth as it is in heaven.” Too often we put that work back on God instead of making it a call to arms. We are to be the Light of the World, the Salt of the Earth. We, like Christ, are to be about our Father’s business.
Two quotes to leave on this week. Bother were so good I could not pick.
"The Church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not members."-Archbishop William Temple. We are blessed to be a blessing.

"In order for the light to be seen, we must be willing to go where the darkness exists, to engage and walk through it, so that, in time, the light can overcome it."-Charles James Cook, "Daily Feast, Year A." Let us not grow weary in doing good. God bless you on your mission this week! Amen.

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Blessings, Rock