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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Epiphany 5, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 6, 2011

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12); Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16); Matthew 5:13-20

Public roles and responsibilities’

Last Sunday we read and heard the Beatitudes, and Alana shared something of what the Beatitudes mean to her – how much they mean to her as a person of faith, a person aware of spiritual poverty and spiritual connection, genuine humility and happiness. She recounted sitting in her car one time, overwhelmed by the enormity of a creative task (How would she manage to draw stories from Indigenous community members? Why should she be trusted with such a task?). And she recounted learning to trust – again and again – overwhelmed by the presence of grace in vulnerable human relationships – overwhelmed by the presence of grace in vulnerable cross-cultural conversations centred on desire for peace with justice … “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit; the kindom of heaven is theirs.” It is the vulnerable who make the world safe for humanity (Brendan Byrne) … because it is the vulnerable through whom God pledges to act.

In today’s Gospel Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount. Addressing Alana, and all of us, Jesus interprets/fulfills the law and the prophets. Those aware of spiritual poverty and connection, humility and happiness, Jesus says, have public roles and responsibilities. They are to the world around them as salt and light. Previously, I’ve preached on salt and light in terms of a call to be “interesting” and “interested” people. But you don’t need me to tell you what these metaphors mean …

Salt … and light …

One commentator writes: “Jesus empowers us to purify, to heal, to nurture, to thaw the frozen, to preserve, and to season the people of the earth” (Ken Kesselus).

Another writes: “If we do not mourn the hurts of the world, if we are not humble, merciful and pure of heart, if we do not hunger and thirst for justice and strive for peace, how will anyone see beyond the callous, winner-takes-all culture of competition?” (Nathan Nettleton).

During the week I was talking with an artist who shared an incredible story. As a younger man he experienced a kind of breakdown; what he called “a black-and-white hell”. He could only see in black and white. Then his eyes were bandaged, he remembered, and his arms were bound. And he recalls a woman, a nurse, a muse (he’s not even sure she was “real”) who described for him richly coloured tropical landscapes and seascapes. The woman also unwrapped his arms and hands so that he could remove his blindfold. He told me his art, ever since then, has been inspired by tropical forms and colours.

“Jesus empowers us to purify, to heal, to nurture, to thaw the frozen, to preserve, and to season the people of the earth.”

“If we do not mourn the hurts of the world, if we are not humble, merciful and pure of heart, if we do not hunger and thirst for justice and strive for peace, how will anyone see beyond the callous, winner-takes-all culture of competition?”

There is an art to all this. Too much salt ruins the dish and the diet. Too much light is overpowering, withering. We are called to be people – each in our own ways – who season and enlighten – whose wisdom enhances particular flavours, whose wisdom helps to make visible vibrant colours. It’s the art of being present, bearing witness and risking love.

Faith doesn’t entail our standing apart from the world, but requires that we help shape it. Faith doesn’t mean we can leave the difficult tasks and responsibilities to others, but requires that we take them on ourselves. We are teachers, students, playwrights, journalists, environmental scientists, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, community workers and small business owners. We are called to be informed on the issues, to understand what our tradition teaches, to speak out, to insist that our elected officials take appropriate action …

We may think sometimes that all we can do is care for ourselves; that caring for others is more than we can manage. Isaiah, however, was speaking to a people who had just returned from exile. They had to reconstruct their social and political world. They had a temple to rebuild and religious structures to put in place. It was to such a community that Isaiah delivered his message: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the imprisoned; tend the sick; bury the dead. Isaiah insisted that the exiles’ care of others was the condition of their own restoration.

Jesus challenges us, not to become something we are not, but to become who we really are; reflections of our true identity, the identity we received at our baptism when a lighted candle was handed to us with the words: “Receive the light of Christ. May you always walk as a child of the light, that all may see your good works and give glory to God.” Amen.