Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings: Isaiah 58:1–9a; 1 Corinthians 2:1–13 & Matthew 5:13–20
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?” This is a verse from the Dhammapada, which is a collection of sayings from the Buddha.
In the context of living a Christian life, we can understand this in terms of living our faith. We can read God’s word in the Bible, and we can talk about what we have read in forums such as Bible study, but if what we learn doesn’t result in our actions and behaviour reflecting our love both for God and others, then it is largely wasted.
Another way to think of it, is in terms of being authentic in our faith. For example, there are no doubt people who read the Bible, and engage in discussions with others about what they have read, because they consider themselves to be deeply religious people. However, the way in which they conduct themselves might demonstrate a lack of compassion for others, which is by default, a lack of love for God.
The commandment that Jesus gave us to “love our neighbours as ourselves,”which is the second of the Two Great Commandments, flows directly out of the first commandment, which is to “love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.” Therefore, if we love God with our whole being, it seems only natural that we will then have love for others. We would expect that people who are truly deeply religious would love God, and therefore love others, and have compassion for them. If someone who claims to be deeply religious does not have compassion for their fellow human beings, then it suggests they are not authentic in their faith.
Each of our readings from the Bible this morning address, to varying degrees, the notions of living one’s faith or being authentic in it. The prophet Isaiah is critical of a group described as self-righteous and meticulous in religious observances. The members of this group engage in theological study, go to the Temple every day, and practice fasting. But they missed the point of a living, vital relationship with God. More important even than correct worship and religious doctrine, is genuine compassion for the oppressed, the poor, and the helpless. In other words, this group is not authentic in its faith.
The Apostle Paul was someone who both lived his faith and was authentic in his faith. He didn’t just talk about the good news of the gospel, he lived it. He travelled extensively through Asia Minor, proclaiming the gospel and establishing churches in places such as Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica and Ephesus.
Paul could have overwhelmed his listeners with intellectual arguments when proclaiming the gospel to them, but writing to the members of the church in Corinth, he reminds them that instead he chose to share with them the simple message that Jesus died on the cross so that all people might have the opportunity for salvation. Paul is authentic in his faith, and lives his faith, by trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide his words.
In last Sunday’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus preach the Beatitudes, which were a guide on how to live a life that would be pleasing to God. The Beatitudes, of course, formed part of the Sermon on the Mount, and today’s gospel passage is also from the Sermon on the Mount and, in fact, follows on immediately from the Beatitudes.
Using salt as a metaphor for a life that is pleasing to God, Jesus tells his disciples that just as salt without flavour is of no value, if his followers make no effort to affect the world around them, they are of little value to God. If we are too much like the world, we are worthless. Christians should not just blend in with everyone else. Instead, we should affect others positively, just as salt brings out the best flavour in food. We are encouraged therefore, to live our faith, and be authentic in our faith.
In the same way, Jesus also uses light as a metaphor to show that his followers should positively affect the world. They are not to isolate themselves from other people, but are to model discipleship in the midst of a fallen world.
And so today, as Tereaza begins her ministry among us here at St Andrew’s, we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen her so that she might live her faith and be authentic in it.