Epiphany 5A Sermon (1999)

5th Sunday after Epiphany
Texts: Matthew 5:13-20;
Is. 58; 1 Cor. 2

RISE, SHINE, YOU PEOPLE

This weekend of our annual meeting we are lifting up the theme of prayer. As we enter a year of emphasizing outreach into our neighborhood, we want to keep in touch with our God through prayer. Otherwise, what we bring to our neighbors might be someone else’s spirit, not God’s.

And the theme of our lessons today puts this in terms of light. We are called to be a light to the world. Our lives are to reflect the light of Christ. I think that it takes a constant life of prayer to make sure it is Christ’s light that we are reflecting, and not spreading another form of darkness.

It is very important I think today, to spend just a few moments making sure we know what the light is. Which is light, and which is darkness. Are we sure we know which is which?

We need to be very careful here because I submit to you that is going to seem very strange at first. We’ll have to develop it with stories. What I submit to you is this: the very darkness which Jesus came to shed light on was our habit as human beings of seeing things in terms of light and dark. In other words, we have this habit of setting ourselves up as the judges of who belongs to the light and who belongs to the darkness. We see ourselves as belonging to the light and someone else as belonging to the darkness. It is this habit of ours which is itself the darkness that Jesus came to shed light on. Why else would Jesus let himself be judged so, as a person of the dark? First, he was accused of hanging around with sinners, with those of the darkness. Then he was condemned as one of the darkness and executed accordingly. It is only the light of Easter morning which begins to open our eyes to the darkness of our entire game of deciding who’s in the light and who’s in the dark.

Besides the cross itself, the quintessential story about this darkness of ours is in John 9, the story of the man born blind, the story in John’s gospel in which Jesus proclaims himself as the light of the world. Elements of story:

  • Disciples start right out playing that game
  • Jesus won’t play
  • In fact, this man’s blindness is an occasion to see God’s glory: God don’t make no junk
  • As the story develops, the blind man sees better and better, while others become increasingly blind, until we read: They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. They were playing that same game as the disciples, and what’s the result: driving him out, just like they would do to Jesus.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Do you see? When we think that we can determine ourselves who is in the light and who is in the dark, then we are most blind. For the darkness is our sin of doing just that, a sin which leads to driving others out. If we are going to be about reaching out and welcoming people in this year at Emmaus, then we need to be in constant prayer that we reflect the loving forgiveness of Jesus rather than the darkness of our usual judgmentalism.

Yesterday, I led a bible study for the first time with our guests from the homeless shelter. It was truly a valuable time of sharing. They really opened up and shared. Elements of story:

  • Grateful for the help, but sometimes hear judgmentalism
  • I started to feel indignant
  • Then I realized I need to see my own darkness

Yes, we need to pray this year as we reach out to others with Jesus’ loving forgiveness, because we have this habit of turning even forgiveness into occasions for judgment first. We have this habit of turning a call to be holy into a call to be holier than thou. We can even turn the brightness of Jesus’ loving forgiveness into the darkness of our judgmentalism. But, in a life of constant prayer, of staying in touch with Jesus’ loving forgiveness we can change things. We can change ourselves into better mirrors for reflecting that loving forgiveness. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran,
Racine, WI, February 6-7, 1999

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