Wednesday, February 9, 2011

5 Epiphany, Year A, 6 February 2011

Isaiah 58:1-9a; Psalm 112:1-10; 1Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
Preached by Rev. Jason M. Haddox

Do you remember the three-dimensional images that were the new cool thing a few years ago? You would stare at a page of what appeared to be nothing but multicolored dots. You would see nothing at first, just those dots. You would sit with it—looking close, then far away, then somewhere in between. And then, out of the corner of your eye, something would start to emerge. If you looked directly at it, it would vanish. You would have to be very patient, and relax your focus until suddenly it would appear: a house, with a picket fence and smoke coming out of the chimney. Or a cat, licking its front paw and washing its face. Or a football (we have to remember Superbowl Sunday today, after all) hurtling toward you from the printed page. And there it was. But even then…You had to look at the image carefully but not too closely, in order to see it. If you tried to focus your eyes, it would disappear. It was almost like looking through the paper, at something on the other side.
The author of Matthew’s gospel is very crafty in the way he tells the story. And by “crafty” I don’t mean deceptive or sneaky. I mean crafty in the way that Don Rief takes a piece of canvas and a bag of colored yarn and makes something beautiful with it, one single stitch at a time, over many hours and days. Or the way a carpenter takes wood and nails and glue and stain and varnish and makes a piece of furniture, with great craft and care and attention to detail. But to see the crafty-ness you have to look at the whole object, and then the details, and then the object. Close up and from a distance, and even then you might see something new each time you come back to it.
This morning, Jesus speaks to his hearers in the second part of the Sermon on the Mount. One of our folks at the Bible Study on Wednesday morning remarked that the passage for this week “…starts out easy to understand, and then gets really complicated.” She saw lots of dots and details, and not as much of the house, or the cat, or the football. Or the needlepoint banner, or the hand-made bookshelf.
The author of Matthew’s gospel is crafty—he is designing something very intentional in the way he builds the story. And in the Sermon on the Mount, we see this design. Now, Jesus did not have secretaries following him around taking dictation. And the Gospels are all written between seventy and a hundred years after the events they describe. So it’s not likely that Jesus said all these things in exactly this way. But the writer of Matthew has a story to tell, and means to tell it in a very particular way.
So what does he say? A few things, and we will begin at the wrong end. First of all, the final portion of the passage this morning: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Whenever Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, he’s usually talking about here and now. “The kingdom of God is among you, it has drawn near, it is here, turn around, do you see it?” This is not about “going to heaven when we die.” Most of our images of heaven and hell do not come from the Bible at all, but from an amazing work of thirteenth-century science fiction, the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. So this is not Jesus lecturing on the life of the world to come—he’s teaching about God’s life, in this world, the world in which we live right now.
Second, he says “I tell You…unless YOUR righteousness is thus and so, YOU will never…” As Bishop Benhase reminded us last Sunday, Jesus is a Southerner. “You” is second-person plural: It’s “y’all”. It is NOT “You and you and you and you…” It is all-encompassing.
Y’all are the salt of the earth. Salt is good for many things, but at bottom it’s about bringing out the flavor of the food. One of the translations we read in the adult Bible study this morning translated this as “You (all) are the seasoning, to bring out the God-flavors in the world…You (all) are the light, to show off the God-colors in this world.” No one person can be all the colors at once—we need yellow and green and red and pink and blue (Preacher gestures toward the stained-glass windows of the church) and all of the colors, and even then we have to sit with the mosaic and see what God is showing us in it.
For God is showing Godself in it. Bishop Benhase told us that last week too—that the Sermon on the Mount is a portrait of God, what God’s kingdom looks like. And we are part of that portrait, in all its various colors and flavors and textures.
We are invited—this day and every day, at every moment—to be a chunk of light and color, in the multicolored mosaic of the People of God.
May it be so for us; may it be so among us.
Thanks be to God.

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