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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Epiphany 5, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 10, 2014

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12); Matthew 5:13-20

‘To season and enlighten’

About three years ago, the editorial team of the South Sydney Herald prepared a vision and guidelines document. With a new issue of the SSH out this month and new and renewed commitment from our wonderful volunteers, it's worth revisiting the document which, over 13 "theological" paragraphs, draws on the words of Jesus from our gospel for today. God be with you ...

In the opening paragraphs of the vision and guidelines document we say: "Publishing a community newspaper is a uniquely effective means of engaging our community, building relationships with various community groups and individuals, including residents and business people, politicians, activists and artists ... The opportunity to model Christian faith and values is unique. Inspired by a prophetic commitment to justice and neighbour-love (Isaiah 1:14-17; Micah 6:8), oriented, that is, 'to what is right and good for the world' (C.S. Song), we are challenged to consider the gospel in journalistic mode, which means, among other things, discerning genuine public interest from sensationalism or gossip, and maintaining standards that profess strength of evidence over ferocity of opinion ... As publisher of a local newspaper the Church recognises a responsibility to reflect on its own commitments to justice and peace ... In this regard, one key text is Matthew 5:13-20, which develops the Beatitudes. 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'."

In the past I’ve preached on salt and light in terms of a call to be “interesting” (salty, not bland) and “interested” (brightly engaging, not dull) people. But you don’t need me to tell you what these metaphors mean … Salt … and light … Jesus is blessing and commissioning his followers to season and to enlighten. They are capable of such ministries. They are precious as salt and light. We are precious as salt and light. Jesus says, "You are precious in the earth, you are of use in the kindom of heaven."

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).

Paragraph 3.3. of the SSH vision and guidelines document says: "There is an art to all this. Too much salt (too great a concern for ourselves or our 'message') ruins the dish and the diet. Too much light (too great an emphasis on our own opinions and judgements) is overpowering, withering. We are called to be a people/publication that seasons and enlightens, that enhances particular and different flavours (perspectives, experiences, interests), that helps to make visible vibrant colours. The art of producing a community newspaper is evangelistic and missional. It is the art of participating in the mission of God (Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love). It is the art of being present, bearing witness and risking love."

It's important that we give theological reasons for the work we do, that we think theologically about it and not just enthusiastically or despairingly. It's important that we discuss and pray together, that we think about the work we do in the name of the Church and in the name of God.

That Trinitarian reference to the mission of God - being present, bearing witness and risking love - can be helpful as a means of understanding and critiquing our ministries. When we make decisions about stories and photographs, about the placement of Adam Goodes on the front page, the covering of events like the NCYC panel session: "Troublemakers, clowns and prophets: a look inside the world of Christian environmental campaigning", support for organisations like Glebe Youth Services, the RSPCA and the Big Issue, support of individuals like Amelia Whitney who is raising funds to help educate and empower children and adults in Rajasthan, and marine biology doctoral candidate Rebecca Morris, we are striving to be faithful to our God - being present, bearing witness and risking love.

When Lyn encounters a student writer with special interest in vital community issues like housing, sustainable development or Aboriginal justice, she gets very excited because a new opportunity has arisen to be present, to bear witness and risk love. When Dorothy shares an experience of spiritual liberation - an experience with social and political implications - or commissions a feature on homelessness and poverty, she rejoices in being present, bearing witness and risking love. As Vanessa will soon discover, there is nothing bland or dull about Dorothy's interest in people.

Paragraph 3.4. continues a reflection on Matthew 5: "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. Salvation 'involves responding to the light of subjectivity in our neighbours, which in turn amounts to a conscious gesture of belonging' (Mark Dooley). As students, teachers, environmental scientists, activists, retailers, 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, and so on."

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 blesses and commissions, affirms and trusts us, not to become something we are not, but to become who we really are - the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus says, "You are precious in the earth, you are of use in the kindom of heaven." How might this blessing touch on our work this week and in coming weeks - as volunteers with the SSH and in all our striving to be present, to bear witness and risk love? ... Amen.