9th February 2020 at Great Brickhill
58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Reading—1 Corinthians 2
2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
Gospel Matthew 5
Salt and Light
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The Fulfilment of the Law
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
A few years ago, Vicky gave me a book for Christmas. In reality, our presents are something we would both enjoy: after almost 48 years of marriage, we have run short of gift ideas. But this book was special: Vicky had painstakingly stuck a gold star against all the places we had visited, and identified other places on our bucket list.
My own ideas of travel destinations does not necessarily agree with the author of this book—but that’s perhaps not surprising. I tend to lose interest quite quickly when vising the Grand Canyon but am fascinated by Japan, and can spend hours discussing the merits of coloured stones displayed under water, or debating the wonders of the top ten gardens.
After the terrible sight of the receding ice cap and glaciers of Greenland, I am not sure I can justify any more trips but at least we have a book of gold stars to remember our past trips, and our new lifestyle in Wendover is compact.
Short haul, Eurostar, and small ship cruises are a more politically correct alternative. Recently we discovered an upside down lighthouse in Northern Ireland. And on two trips to Germany by boat I found a shop in Regensburg where they only stocked herbs, spices, pepper, salt and many other condiments in amazing profusion. One grinder dispensed pink sea salt and peppercorns in one handy action.
I was reminded of both these finds when I looked in my lectionary to check this week’s gospel reading.
The lighthouse on Rathlin Island could not be constructed on the cliff top. It was too high, and the light would shine uselessly over the top of many ships. So they built the light half way down the cliff and the accommodation and facilities higher up. However bright, the light was of no value unless it can be seen clearly, assist navigation and warn sailors.
In Schuhbecks Gewürze you could sample all the salts and peppers—selecting just the right colour and taste. Some salts I found are very salty indeed—others are milder. Now on our dining room table we can season food with salt and pepper in one go.
It doesn’t take a genius to see what I am getting at, and how these two seemingly random experiences illustrate today’s gospel reading.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Says Jesus. No doubt there were different strengths of salt from the Dead Sea at the time—and of course salt was used as a currency—that’s where the word salary comes from.
If for some reason salt gets damp, it rapidly becomes useless, only fit to be tossed underfoot or on our frozen roads and pavements. You cannot make it salty again, once it has lost its flavour.
A slightly more meaningful illustration is the common allegory of the light throughout Scripture. 14 “You are the light of the world… says Jesus. You can’t hide a village if it is built on a hilltop. Also you don’t conceal a light under a basket. Instead, the lamp is placed high up on a stand where it gives the most effective illumination.
As Christians, we are meant to be obvious—not hidden or weak, but giving light to everyone in the house.
“Look to”—says the bellringer. “Treble’s going! She’s gone”—and the bells ring out loudly—heard throughout the village. This is how we are meant to be. The bells announce the worship of God—who cares if they are sometimes out of time.
The light. The flavour. The call to worship. Which leads me on to my favourite invitation to the Offertory which those who come to BCP will hear regularly. I bet you didn’t know this comes after the mini parable of the Light under the Bushel—where Jesus says:
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
So let us ensure we maintain the flavour of the good news and not water it down, or become lukewarm. And shine as a light to the world—so that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father, who is in heaven.