Our readings today give us a recurring message—1) God is always with us, even when we doubt it, and 2) there is responsibility with following God, that includes working on our spiritual maturity (not just learning and following laws).
This Isaiah reading occurs after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and exile of the Jews in the 6th century BC. The Jewish believed God failed them in letting this happen, but were warned by Isaiah both before and after the fall to get their act together and return to following God, not just in their following laws, but with real actions, and all will be better.
The last part of this reading (the part in brackets, which signifies it is optional) is clearly the best: “9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
I think we as a church are doing this in the community around us. In this mixed-up world today, it is easy to just complain and trash others who are not as well off, who have drug issues, who are not religious, who are without work, who don’t think as we do. Our challenge from God is to feed the hungry, help the afflicted, stop the fighting, and give comfort to all who struggle.
Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians reminds them that just using their minds and not using their hearts does not lead to good Christian discipleship. The people of Corinth (who were mainly Greeks) were known to be some of the world’s great thinkers for a long time, and that led to a high-powered culture of art and philosophy. But the heart led by the Spirit also is needed to understand God, and to follow the example Jesus gave to them. Paul asks them to look at becoming more rounded in their faith, using both their minds and the Spirit. (And Paul emphasizes that with his statement about himself not being such a great scholar—that he did not appeal to their minds, but instead the Spirit in them, and asked them to be led by it on their faith journeys.)
Matthew’s Gospel reading talks about salt and light. Specifically, about not losing saltiness and covering up light. I really like the “salt of the earth” phrase, and we probably all know someone as a salt of the earth person. Corby talks about her Dad in ways that I see him as that kind of person—kind, caring, helpful, looking out for others. I think Lee Avery here at St. Mark’s was one of those people, too. Nothing says they even have to be Christian to fit this role and model. Actually, I can see a lot of salty people in our pews today, too, who are in the world doing things that make a difference in those around them.
What does it mean to lose saltiness? I think it might mean losing focus on these traits and actions with others, maybe due to some troubling event in one’s life that pulls them down, or they just get frustrated and bitter over what happens around them. I think we all have times like this, and our faith and our church community can help us to get back on track and closer to God to move forward in saltiness.
What about that light image? Some 400 years ago, in 1630, a governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in Puritan New England, John Winthrop, touted that their place was a “shining city on the hill”, a light to the world. Not sure what he thought their light was displaying, as they were very judgmental, very narrow in their faith, and demeaned and even executed others who weren’t just like them.
That same phrase has been used by some of those in politics in recent years to describe the United States, which to me is a ripoff of what Jesus really meant. There is no light displayed when we are so divided, when we allow racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and religious intolerance, to be at the forefront of our country’s politics, policies and actions. That is not light, but only utter darkness. What is needed is for us to do what Jesus calls us to do, so we are truly light—others see our good works and do likewise.
As disciples of God, we have to be the activity of God in the world. We are called to live out our identity as salt and light. Herbert O’Driscoll emphasizes that this means not just being subject to and following the laws, but also forming and nurturing relationships. That is a subtle nuance to being salt and light, and it helps us focus on the types of actions we do. Are they actions that have depth, or just actions that help but not heal too.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “if it’s not about Love, it isn’t about Christ.” Corby reminds us of this all the time. And I think that is a good way to decide how much we are committed to being salts and lights—if we do it with Love, it will be Christ-like and make a major difference in our world.