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Fifth Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 5 (February 9, 2014)
It's Time to Lighten Up!
This is a strange time of year. The days are short, the nights are long, and even though we dream of more daylight, we walk around hoping against hope that there won't be enough sunshine produced for a rodent (okay, a groundhog!) to see its own shadow. A quick scan of today's news can be equally as bleak. It is time for a little more light in an otherwise dark and dreary time.
Enter Epiphany. The missional emphasis of this season shines like a beacon of light and hope in the dead of winter, bringing good news in the middle of this world's not-so-good news. This week God provides the mission in Isaiah—feed the hungry, care for the homeless, clothe the naked. Upon accomplishing this mission God tells the people, "Your light shall break forth like the dawn." Paul continues his Spirit-led mission, encouraging the church in Corinth, "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him." Jesus teaches his disciples, "You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others" (Matt. 5:14, 16). Through these words in Jesus' sermon, he gives followers of every day and age a mission to share the light which scatters the darkness.
Whether you are looking in the news or out the window, things may seem pretty dark and dreary at this time of year, but do not miss the light of Epiphany! We are indeed created in God's image, therefore the spark of the divine is alive in all of us. The light shines through us as we live out God's mission for our lives each day. As Epiphany continues, we should all be prepared to let our light shine and share the good news.
In 2002 the producer of BBC-London, Danny Wallace, gained a following when he issued an anonymous invitation in a London newspaper to "join him." After hundreds of replies the Karma Army was born, an online community commissioned to perform random acts of kindness every Friday, called "Good Fridays." Mike Breen and Steve Cockram, in Building a Discipling Culture (Pawleys Island, SC: 3DM, 2011, pp. 92-98), reflect on the impact a Christian community would have if it made a similar pledge, but for different reasons. Followers of Jesus act as salt and light because they have been seasoned and enlightened by the Spirit.
Among salt's many uses in the Bible was as an element in sacrifice (Paul Sevier Minear, "The Salt of the Earth," Interpretation
, Jan. 1997, pp. 31-41). As "salt," followers of Jesus are characterized by self-giving that leads to greater life. Betty Anne Waters is an example of such self-sacrifice. While raising two children and working as a waitress, she completed college and law school in order to exonerate her incarcerated brother (details at the Innocence Project
). Waters's story of personal cost and devotion to her cause are portrayed in the movie Conviction
(Fox Searchlight, 2010). What does our focused devotion to God's kingdom look like? What are the costs? What are the rewards?
A question often asked by lawyers in ancient Rome was Cui bono?—"Who benefits?" Who benefits from the Christian community? Answer: the world! Just as salt and light do not exist for their own benefit, the local community of disciples does not exist for itself but rather to model God's reign of forgiveness. Who benefits from your ministries? Be specific. List examples and give thanks to God for them. You may be surprised how many come to mind.
Today Jesus upholds the law so that he may fulfill, not fossilize, the law. In the same way, musicians must first learn and master rudimentary skills and tunes before they can transcend the basic rules creatively without inflicting harm on the piece they are playing. Can you think of other examples of "mastering the rules" in order to move beyond them?
Often those who go "above and beyond" mere expectation pay a cost for it. In the classic movie Dead Poets Society
(Touchstone, 1989), English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) instills in his students a love of literature, going beyond merely instructing them to pass an exam. His passion for his subject becomes contagious. But not everyone is impressed with the change in the students, and Mr. Keating pays the cost.
Dr. Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, has dedicated his life and career to creating visible "salt and light" opportunities for young people of different faiths to work together for the common good. In a video
, Dr. Patel reflects on the consequences of and the motivation he receives from "losing our saltiness."
For worshipers who are inspired by visual imagery a video
by The Work of the People may foster reflection either before worship or during a quiet moment during the service, perhaps during the offering or communion.
As Jesus begins his teaching ministry with the Sermon on the Mount, he prepares his followers for discipleship by teaching them to "unlearn" religious ideas that may prevent them from grasping the newness of the gospel. Fr. Richard Rohr calls this process "cultivating a beginners' mind" (Everything Belongs, New York: Crossroad, 2003, pp. 32-36). By instructing his disciples that they are already salt and light, and by fulfilling the law (rather than merely reiterating it), how is Jesus helping his disciples to see anew? What do we need to unlearn so that we may follow Jesus with greater commitment and joy?
E. B. Lewis's beautifully illustrated picture book This Little Light of Mine
(Simon and Shuster, 2005) illustrates the famous song as it depicts a day in the life of a boy "letting his light shine" in his encounters with people. Share the story with children and ask them how the boy reflects God's love in his interactions with the other characters.
David Lose, in his reflections
on today's gospel reading, underscores the declarative
nature of this passage—that Jesus simply declares
his disciples as worthy salt and light for others, as opposed to an imperative
approach commanding his followers to be such. In a popular TED Talk
on vulnerability, researcher and professor Brené Brown ponders (at 17:57) what would happen if we raised our children with a similar, declarative sense of their worthiness of love and belonging. What would such light bring to the world?
Lectionary Notes by Gail Ramshaw
E-FORMATION FOR SUNDAY
We cannot live without salt or light. In the gospel for this coming Sunday, Christians are called to be like salt and light for others. Come to worship, to enter once again in the light of the baptized assembly, to hear the word, and to share in the meal of forgiveness.
THE READINGS IN THE BIBLE
Following the introductory Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount describes the Christian community as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The righteousness called forth in the kingdom of heaven means to transform and maintain the entire world. This passage epitomizes Matthew's understanding that the Christian movement built upon and perfected the righteousness prescribed in the Jewish commandments.
Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]
The third section of Isaiah probably took shape after 490 BCE, after the return from the exile. Here, one of several prophets condemns the people for worshiping the LORD God while maintaining unjust social practices. The passage likens a truly righteous communal life to light shining in the darkness. The prophet urged the restored community to embody justice.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]
Paul continued his letter to the church in Corinth by developing the contrast between Greek philosophical understanding of wisdom and the paradoxically powerful weakness of the cross. What Jesus Christ achieved on the cross is made available to all through the Spirit.
THE READINGS ON THIS DAY
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
On consecutive Sundays after the Epiphany or after Trinity Sunday we examine our lives in light of Matthew's rigorous understanding of righteousness. To be light in the world, we must reflect the Light who is Christ.
Christians receive the call to be salt and light, for the gospel means to transform not merely the self or the members of the church, but the entire world. The impossibility of our living such a perfect life makes us rely on the mercy of God and the power of the Spirit.
Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]
This prophetic passage is appointed as background to Matthew's words. Jesus reiterates the prophet's call to justice and the biblical metaphor of light. Christians see in Jesus the continuation and culmination of the Jewish hope for righteousness. This passage is also an optional reading for Ash Wednesday.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]
The "spirit of the world" that Paul writes about is precisely what Matthew is urging Christians to reject in favor of a radically transformed life in the Spirit. Christians see in Paul's description of the actions of God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit the foundation of the later doctrine of the Trinity.
IMAGES IN THE READINGS
Light is an image on many Sundays. The Sermon on the Mount speaks also of the lampstand. Paul would remind us that, contrary to the wisdom of the world, our lampstand is the cross.
Salt is necessary for human life. In recollection of this passage, some early Christian communities placed salt on the tongue of the newly baptized. In the early twentieth century, the British placed an embargo on salt, requiring the Indian people to purchase salt from them, and Gandhi's Salt March became a symbol of the right of Indians to manage their own survival.
The passage from Isaiah speaks about a fast. In many religious traditions, people limit or refrain from some necessary human activity as a symbol that their truest life comes only from the divine. In both the Jewish and Christian traditions, fasting must be accompanied with justice for the poor for God to acknowledge its value.
CONNECTIONS WITH THE LITURGY
At the welcome to the newly baptized (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 231), we hear reminders of today's gospel reading. Option 1 connects Matthew's words about light with John's: our light comes from the Light that is Christ. Option 2 quotes Matthew 5:16: our light draws people, not to ourselves, but to our Father in heaven.
THE PRAYER OF THE DAY
The prayer of the day is based on #86 in the seventh-century Gregorian Sacramentary and maintains the simplicity of those early prayers. Only with the power of God's Spirit can we embody the kingdom that Matthew describes.
THE PSALM FOR THE DAY
Psalm 112 is an acrostic poem that praises the LORD and blesses those who obey the commandments. They are light in the darkness, and so we are ready to hear Matthew about the light of our baptism. We sing this psalm in response to Isaiah's call to righteousness, in hope that in Christ we can live out this call.
A HYMN FOR THE DAY
A hymn appropriate for this Sunday is "Christ, Be Our Light" (ELW 715). Through the words of this hymn we ask Christ to enlighten us, so that we can give light, peace, food, and shelter to those who are in need. Both the text and the tune were composed by the British Roman Catholic hymn writer Bernadette Farrell.
LIFE ON THE EARTH
It is not only humans who need healing. The very earth itself, with its animals and plants, is signaling its need for human societies to show justice to God's creation. The second reading speaks of God's gifts to us, one of which is the earth itself.
ESPECIALLY FOR CHILDREN
Teach and sing with the children Harry Dixon Loes's 1920 song, "This little light of mine."
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine . . .
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
All around the neighborhood
I'm gonna let it shine . . .
Hide it under a bushel, No!
I'm gonna let it shine . . .
Don't you dare to poof it out . . .
I'm gonna let it shine . . .
BULLETIN ART: DOWNLOADABLE, LEGAL, FREE
When Christians hear the words "let your light shine," we think of baptism and the baptismal candle. For a photo of a burning candle, go to publicdomainpictures.net
, "candle." Some of the images on this website can be downloaded for free and printed in your bulletin.
COMMENTS FROM THE SISTERS AND BROTHERS
For Jesus, salt and light came out of a long tradition of biblical teaching: salt and light were images for the law of God. Salt and light must take us back to the fullness of the law and the prophets, and the fullness of Jesus' radical teaching in this Sermon on the Mount. The prophets plead for fullness of life: freedom from oppression, bread for the hungry, homes for those who have none, clothing for the naked. Is this not what it means to be the salt of the earth, to keep this prophetic word alive in the midst of our world? If we lose this vision, if we give in to other values, if we forget God's longing for justice, our salt has lost its taste. If you think Jesus' call is impossible, remember that the One who is our bread is with us and within us, empowering us to be salt and light in this world.
[Barbara Lundblad, in Homilies for the Christian People, ed. Gail Ramshaw (NY: Pueblo, 1989), 38.]
§ = global song
† = praise song
‡ = relates to hymn of the day
Christ, whose glory fills the skies ELW 553, LBW 265
Gather Us In ELW 532, WOV 718
I want to walk as a child of the light ELW 815, WOV 649
"Take Your Place at the Table."Psallite
Pavlechko, Thomas. "Psalm 112," Refrain 3 from PSCY
Gelineau, Joseph or Michel Guimont. "Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time / A" from LP/W4
Hymn of the Day
Light shone in darkness ELW 307 LUX IN TENEBRIS
This little light of mine ELW 677, TFF 65 THIS JOY
We Are Called ELW 720, W&P 147 WE ARE CALLED
Lord of light ELW 688, LBW 405
Creating God, your fingers trace ELW 684
Thee we adore, O Savior ELW 476, LBW 199
Holy, holy, holy, holy ELW 762, LLC 273, TFF 203, W&P 61
In the singing ELW 466
Go, make disciples ELW 540, W&P 47
Joyful, joyful we adore thee ELW 836, LBW 551
Additional Assembly Songs
Listen! You nations of the world LBW 14
Rejoice in the mission W&P 120
Loh, I-to, arr. Taiwan. "Light of the World, Salt of the Earth" from Sound the Bamboo
. U. GIA G-6830.
Vas, Charles. India. "Give Us Light / Jyothi dho Prabhu" from Love and Anger: Songs of Lively Faith and Social Justice
. U. GIA G-4947.
Camp, Jeremy. "Speaking Louder Than Before"
Fee, Steve. "You Are the Light"
Hall, Charlie / Kendall Combes. "Breathe"
Herbert, Nick / Ben Cantelon. "New Day"
Redman, Matt / Jonas Myrin. "All That Really Matters"
Redman, Matt / Tofer Brown / Bryan Brown / Chris Tomlin. "Not Ashamed"
Music for the Day
‡ = relates to hymn of the day
Eicker, Edward. "What You Have Done."
SATB, cant, opt assembly, C inst, kybd. GIA G-7699.
Haugen, Marty. "Eye Has Not Seen."
SATB, gtr, kybd, 2 inst, assembly. GIA G-2659.
Leavitt, John. "Lord, You Are Light."
SATB, kybd. AFP 9780800679231.
Lovelace, Austin. "The Beginning of Wisdom."
SATB, org. ECS 6637.
Miller, Aaron David. "We Will Shine."
SATB, kybd. AFP 9780800678111.
Schalk, Carl. "Those Who Are Wise."
SATB. MSM 50-9009.
Sedio, Mark. "Christ Comes Among Us."
SATB, org, tpt. AFP 9780800678326.
Carter, John. "We Are Called to Be His Servants."
U/2 pt, pno. AFP 9780800675455.
Kemp, Helen. "Set the Sun Dancing."
U, kybd, hb. CG CGA780.
Sullivan, Joseph B. "Not to Be Hidden."
2 pt, kybd, gtr. GIA G-5801.
Keyboard / Instrumental
Bach, J. S. "In dir ist Freude" from Das Orgelbüchlein
. Org. Various editions.
Childs, Edwin T. "This Joy" from Spirituals for Organ: For Manuals Only
. Org or kybd. AFP 9781451401141.
Hassell, Michael. "This Little Light of Mine" from Jazz Sunday Morning: Piano Arrangements
. Pno. AFP 9780800655402.
Maynard, Lynette L. "This Little Light of Mine" from Let it Shine: Worship Music for Solo Piano
. Pno. AFP 9780800677640.
Glasgow, Michael. "Lux Aeterna."
5-7 oct hb, 4 or 7 oct hc, L3+. National Music Publishers NMHB-661.
Keller, Michael. "From Darkness, Light."
5 or 7 oct, L5. AGEHR AG57015E.
Moats, William. "This Little Light of Mine."
2-3 oct, L2+. CG CGB678.