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Reflections, Images, and Videos for February 5

February 9, 2017

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candle-animated-gif-4At our 8:30 and 10 a.m. Services on February 5, we continued our Epiphany theme of light. We looked at choosing the path that builds up, rather than destroys – as the heinous attack in Quebec City did; exploring how the love of Jesus shines within us, causing our inner light to rise in the darkness, and shines through us, giving light to all our brothers and sisters in this hurting world. Here, embedded immediately below, are the videos we watched before our 10 a.m. Service to prepare us for worship.

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Our Old Testament Reading on February 5 was Isaiah 58:1-12. A portion of this passage is recited by the children of Amazing Grace Orphanage in Uganda in the video below. 

Our Gospel Reading was Matthew 5:13-20. Here below is a video of verses 13 to 16 of this passage being read.

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[Here’s an adapted version of the sermon I preached at our February 5 Services.]

On January 29, acts of great darkness were carried out in Quebec City. A 26 year old man entered a mosque, shot to death 6 people and injured 19 others, 5 critically. What happened next in our country is recorded in this news story.

People throughout Canada responded to the great darkness of hate manifested in these evil actions by literally (in vigils like the one in Quebec City pictured at the top of this blog posting) and figuratively holding up their candles to shine forth the light of love, giving us a glimpse of a world as it’s meant to be – us as we’re meant to live.

Our passages today, showing the everlasting nature of the message of Holy Scripture, speak with great power about the very heart of what has gripped our country.

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In our Old Testament Reading, the people are walking in darkness – inner darkness. God seems absent. And they’re complaining about it.

Isaiah 58:2-3 says:

“Day after day they seek me and ask of me righteous judgements:
‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?'”

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They’re angry at God: “Why aren’t we experiencing intimacy with you?” they cry out. We’re drawing close to you; why aren’t you drawing close to us?” They’re experiencing inner darkness and have lost their way.  

Sort of like what this man in this video is experiencing.

I can relate. On Boxing Day, driving my Dad home to Lethbridge, the lights for my Ford (pictured below) stopped working – but my speedometer and other dash lights stopped working, also, and we were driving in snow and blowing snow! It made for a challenging journey! 

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fistWhere’s the light!?” was the question in my head, and in the heads of the people of Israel. “We’ve done the right things – we’ve put the key in the ignition, turned the headlights on – but where’s the light?!” C. S. Lewis calls this putting God in the dock – to defend God’s actions to us. But Isaiah says that this complaint isn’t just a monologue, a rant in which we’re shaking a fist up at an empty universe. God has something to say in response!

“Look, you serve your own interest
on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.”

(Apparently they became bad-tempered when they got hungry!)

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“Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?”

Then come some of the most powerful words on social justice ever written:

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“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

God promises that when they open their hearts to others, their hearts will be open to God, and the relationship with God for which they’re yearning. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Here I am, with you!”

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Just after this, the thought concludes:

“If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if 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.”

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God says: You want to experience the light of my Presence within? Then open yourself up to my love dwelling within you. When you love, your own inner light will brighten.

And, the promise is, that when they do this, when this happens, it will make a difference not only for them and their own darkness, but also for the world:

“Your 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.”

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In our Gospel Reading from Matthew, Jesus teaches this same message, using again the image of light, and adding the image of salt. 

In 5:13, he says: “‘You are the salt of the earth.'”

We hear these words and may think Jesus is saying something like, “You are the salt on the wound of the world!” Or we may think of the need for those with hypertension to be on low sodium diets.

stovetop-butternut-squash-adding-salt-1024x6833333But in the ancient world, salt was positive.

It had 3 main uses. In small amounts, it was used as fertilizer. It was used to preserve food. And it was used to season food.

Its use as a fertilizer speaks of helping bring life.

Its use as a preservative (remember that there was no refrigeration) speaks of keeping things from going bad.

Its use for seasoning speaks of helping things not be bland. Salt adds zest – it brings out flavour. It doesn’t point to itself, but draws out the best in that with which it comes in contact. 

This, Jesus said, is our purpose in the world as his disciples.

Sea salt wooden spoon on brown wooden background.

“But if salt has lost its taste,” he adds, “how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Salt losing its saltiness is a contradiction in terms, like water losing its wetness – if the salt is pure sodium chloride. But the salt used in the ancient world was seldom pure. That which was collected around the Dead Sea, for example, contained a mixture of other minerals. So it was possible for salt to lose its saltiness. And if it does, Jesus points out, it’s lost its whole purpose.

The word translated “lost its taste” here is moraino, which, more literally, means “become foolish.” (It’s related to our word “moron”.) Salt that isn’t salty is foolish or moronic or useless salt.

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He then adds: “You are the light of the world.”

Light enables us to see. Like salt, we don’t focus on it. (The purpose of a light isn’t to stare at it!). But we see through it – like car headlights.

And he says: “A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Often built of white limestone, ancient towns gleamed in the sun. Nighttime lamps would show up in the night sky. How much more do we understand this to be true today! From miles away, can see the glow of Calgary in the distance – not from one HUGE light, but from a million tiny lights.  The darker the environment, the more the light shines forth.

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Jesus continues: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”

clay-oil-lamp-burning_1154631_inlNo one goes to the trouble of lighting a lamp to then hide its light under a bushel basket. The purpose of a lighting a lamp is so that everyone in the house can see by its light. (Note the image here of home, family.)

Also, a domestic lamp was a shallow bowl of oil with a wick. Cover it with a bowl, and the lamp will go out! 

Light is made to be used, to shine. If we decide not to allow light to shine in our families, our day-to-day dealings with others, our society, then it goes out.

“In the same way,Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

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When we look at the world, we can see much death; we’re called to spread life. We can see much in it that’s in danger of going bad; we’re called to be a preservative force. So many people are feeling less than fully alive; we’re called to add zest, to help others be the best versions of themselves. There’s much darkness; we’re called to be light shining in dark places to bring about change.

It’s our purpose to be salt and light, and make a difference. It’s our purpose to show God’s love at work in the world – to embody it, inside and out.

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Today’s Reading from 1 Corinthians says that this is God’s wisdom.

salt_of_the_earth“I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” Paul writes.

The Cross was Jesus’ ultimate act of self-giving. On it he was poured out in love, like salt pours out of a salt shaker, or light from headlights.

This is God’s plan for humanity.

Its awesomeness knows no bounds: What no eye has seen,” Paul writes, “nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

This is the path of true blessedness. (It’s no coincidence that today’s Gospel occurs just after the Beatitudes.) It’s the path of Good Friday emptying that leads to the overflowing life and endless joy of Easter Sunday.

tumblr_nwnhkyh7ym1rneocoo1_1280We’ll end this sermon by watching the final minutes of the movie “Pay It Forward.” The child in on the TV, the son of Helen Hunt’s character, had decided to make a difference in the world. He let his light shine, before dying in an act of violence, of darkness, carried out by one of his schoolmates. What happens next is a response very like what we’ve seen this past week in our land.

As we watch this clip, let’s reflect on our calling, and rededicate ourselves to be salt and light in the world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never – and shall never – put it out. Thanks be to God.

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At our January 29 Annual Meeting, we elected, appointed, and affirmed an AWESOME group of Parish Officers for 2017! At the end of the 10 a.m. Service, they were installed in their various ministries. Cyril and I reaffirmed our ordination vows. And each of us in the congregation were be asked to dedicate ourselves to executing the ministries to which we’ve been called. It was a wonderful opportunity for each of us to commit ourselves with all our heart to the One who is committed wholeheartedly to us. Here, below, is the Liturgy we used.

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We departed our 10 a.m. Service with the following videos reminding us of our mission as members of St. Paul’s to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

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