Sunday, February 09, 2014

Epiphany 5A

They were doing everything right. They knew what their religious obligations were and they followed those duties down to the last period. So what was the problem? They were doing everything that God wanted them to do, so why was God angry with them?

"Why do we fast, but you do not see, O God? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" they ask of heaven.

It wasn’t just that God was angry, it was that God was angry enough to ignore them. God’s smoldering wrath was something they could deal with. They were used to that.

But this silent treatment they were getting from God was new- and it was killing them. Especially when they hadn’t a clue what they were doing wrong. This silence from heaven stung their ears.

When God finally opens the divine mouth, God’s people were surprised by what they heard.

“Look, God says, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.”

It turns out that they were doing all the right religious things, but those right religious things were NOT spilling out into their daily lives.

They were fighting with each other. They were finding ways to weasel out of contracts with their workers. They were making enemies with their neighbours for no good reason. They were being petty, selfish, and just plain old mean.

They were toxic. They weren’t at all living up to their mandate as God’s people shining a God’s light to the nations, bearing witness to God’s love for the world, drawing all people to God. In fact they were doing the opposite. They were making God look really bad.

God may have been angry with them, and needed some alone time, but God returned, as God always does. And where God sees a problem, God provides a solution. And the solution that God provides pushes them into familiar, but uncomfortable, territory:

Is not this the fast that I choose [God asks]:

to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke of slavery,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke of oppression?
7Is 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 family when they come knocking, looking for help?

God’s solution to the people’s problem was to remind them of who they are and what their job is as God’s chosen people: to show the world around them a different reality, God’s reality of justice, of compassion, of forgiveness, and of love.

And God knew what they were capable of even if they didn’t. God knew that they were more than their failings, and more than their lack of faithfulness. God knew that they were more than their mean pettiness. 

When God looked at them, God saw more than a faithless crowd of self-absorbed religious flakes and greedy children.

When God looked at these people, God saw a light. A divine light that God put there. God saw endless potential.

God didn’t just see what they were. God saw what they were to become. 

God saw that they were more than them sinning and God forgiving. God saw that they were forgiven for a purpose: to shine the light that God gave them to the world when it is covered in darkness.

And we can learn a lesson from our sisters and brothers from so many centuries ago. Because we tend to get caught in their trap.

As Christians, we tend to focus our faith on the sin/forgiveness transaction. We reduce our faith to us sinning and God forgiving. And we repeat that over and over and over again, as if that is the full content of our faith.

And yes, that is an important part of our Christian faith. But that’s not where our faith ends. Our Christian faith is SO much more than that. Receiving forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of our faith. It’s not the whole of our faith.

Reinforcing the sin-forgiveness transaction may keep folks like me in gainful employment, but it doesn’t help you grow into greater faithfulness. 

Being a mature Christian isn’t about managing our sin more effectively, but being a mature Christian means  being agents of grace, bearers or mercy, advocates of justice, workers of peace, as citizens of God’s Kingdom that has come to earth in Jesus.

God knows, that as mature believers, that sin and forgiveness is not the substance of our faith, but an entry way into deeper faith, and more active living of our faith.

And I think you know that. From what I’ve seen over these eighteen months that I’ve been here with you is that you know that faith is more than forgiveness of sins, faith means love for neighbour. 

I’ve seen you respond to need with great compassion and even greater sweat. I’ve seen it in the way you care for each other. I’ve seen it in the value you put in your life together. I’ve seen it in the care you give others, and in your commitment to Christ’s mission for the church.

So, maybe, for us, instead of the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, some Sundays we could have a Brief Order of Kingdom Accomplishments.

Instead of always talking about where we have failed, we can share about those times we have succeeded!

Instead of always admitting our guilt, we can proclaim our successes.

Instead of pointing to our shortcomings, we can share our victories.

You can talk about where you have seen God working the world.
You can tell stories of what God is doing in your life.
You can share about how you have participated in God’s kingdom work.
You can talk about the forgiveness you gave and received.
You can talk about the justice you worked for.
You can talk about how you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick. 
You can talk about how you were that caring ear, that comforting touch, or that encouraging word.

You can talk about how you fished for people by letting them know about a God who loves them.

You can share all of this, not to brag about how awesome you are. But because this is evidence of the kingdom of God at work in the world and in your life. 

This is YOUR story of where God is touching the world through YOU.
This is YOUR way of saying “Yes! God is with us!”
This is YOUR way of proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in YOUR life and in YOUR world.

You can share these stories to bear witness to the God who promised to make all things new, and is busy keeping those promises.

Jesus says, “YOU are the salt of the earth! YOU are the light of the world! Let YOUR light so shine before others that they may see YOUR good works and glorify your Father in heaven!”

That’s what this season of Epiphany is all about. Remembering that we shine a light into a world that is often dark. And knowing that God pushes us in that direction as light bearers, doing more than we ever thought possible.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what scares me about these passages for today. What scares me is that God thinks I can do more than I think I can do. God thinks I’m more gifted that I believe I really am.

God thinks that we, as God’s people, can be more faithful, more compassionate, and more loving, than we believe is likely. God thinks we are limited only by God’s power. And if you think about what that means, then the possibilities for our future are terrifyingly limitless. 

Our fear then isn’t what happens if we fail, we’re afraid of what might happen if we succeed! If our efforts backfire, then we can settle into a comfortable failure, but success thrusts us into unchartered terrain, finding our way into a future that looks very little like our past.

I once shared this quote from Marianne Williamson with a young adult group in Lethbridge, and it made quite the impact with many of them:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn't serve the world.

There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so

that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,

we unconsciously give others
 people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.

Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said that YOU are the light of the world. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said that YOU are the salt of the earth.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he encouraged us to “Let our light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

God has shone a light through you that shines into the world. God has created you as a beacon to draw people to God. God has made you with unique skills and gifts to bring glory to God and service to others.

As we gather today in our Annual General Meeting, we have an opportunity to celebrate those moments where God has shown up, and to honour those times when OUR light has shone before others and have glorified our Father in heaven. And then look to the awesome future that God is moving us into.

Because behind us is a past we can remember with thanksgiving, and in front of us is even greater, grander, frontiers of possibility; opportunities that may challenge us, choices that may push us beyond what is comfortable, circumstances that may stretch our creativity and our resources, but God sees in us more than what we see in ourselves. God put us here - in this moment, and at this time - with all our challenges and frustrations, trusting that we’ll know what to do with it.

God sees that we - YOU - are the salt of the earth. God sees that we - YOU - are the light of the world.

So, then, let YOUR light so shine before others, that they may see YOUR good works, and give glory to God in heaven.

May this be so among us. Amen!


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