Sunday, February 9, 2020

Let your light shine so that others may see.

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Katy TX 77493


This portion of Matthew picks up immediately after the Beatitudes and is part of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. In this part of his gospel we have the longest set of teachings from Jesus. Scholars believe that Matthew has woven together several teaching events into this one big statement of the essential theology of Matthew’s community as the received it from Jesus and the apostles.

The statement “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” often catches people up short. That does seem like a pretty high bar doesn’t it?  Well maybe not. The Message translation reads “Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.” The Pharisees were focused on following the letter of the law and I remind you of Jesus’ answer to the question what is the greatest commandment? To love your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. On these, hang all the law and the prophets.  Jesus has a different idea about being righteous.

Jesus wants more than legalism. Jesus wants a law of love. The Pharisees were all focused on personal piety and ritual. Jesus was focused on what we did in relation to others. Pope Francis said “You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian. You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes. You cannot be a Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25,” which is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger.[1]” This goes well beyond personal piety and demands that we love our neighbor as well as God. This is how we make the kingdom come right here right now.

This my friends, is the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy and a very important lesson. Orthodoxy is what the pharisees were focused on. Orthodoxy means the correct belief, following doctrines, rules and regulations. Thinking in the approved way. Orthopraxy is right actions. To be righteous in that world meant to be in right relationship with God and Jesus is saying that this means acting with the love that he shared and showed people. In the gospel of John in the final discourse after the foot-washing he tells the disciples that “people will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

I learned about the concept of orthopraxy from Fr. Richard Rohr. He speaks of the Franciscan alternate orthodoxy. Francis taught people that God cares more about what we do than what we believe. Salvation came to the world through Jesus’ incarnation. This is a different way of defining salvation than the standard teaching of the church but is accepted as an alternate way of looking at salvation and one that I believe has much to offer for us.

St. Francis is reported to have said, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words only when necessary.” Francis meant that our actions speak louder than our words and Jesus in just a few verses later in Matthew will tell his audience not to be like the Pharisees who do not do what they demand everyone else does. Our baptismal promises remind us that this is fundamental to our call as Christians. One of the question is: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of Christ? This is all orthopraxy.

I asked Jason to put in hymn 602(Jesu, Jesu) as the sequence or gradual hymn. That hymn that we sing before and after the gospel. I asked him to put it there because this hymn tells us some ways to live that message. We serve our neighbors, all of them, rich or poor, black or white. This hymn also suggests that we do this with humility as servants. I think both parts are important. Most important is the prayer fill us with your love.

Jesus is drawing from ancient sources in this teaching. You only need to look to our Isaiah passage this morning. Isaiah in our passage is saying that offering up sacrifices and running around in sackcloth and ashes is not what God desires instead he says:

   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? 

                                    —Isaiah 58.6-7

Pastor Steve posted this portion on Tuesday morning and then offered this reflection:
“God does not care what you believe;
God cares how you treat people.
Let your prayer lead you to love,
especially for the unloved and unlovable.
Let your creed be kindness, and courage
to undo the chains of oppression.
If your faith is not passion for justice
it’s faith in something other than God,
for God is the God of all.
The worship God desires—the God of all people—
is that all of God’s beloved receive favor equally.
Until everyone is given honor, freedom and love,
your faith journey is not complete.
This is all the creed you need:
“What you do to the least you do to me.”[2]

Now with all that in mind let me read the central portion of our gospel in the Message translation:

Message 14-16 Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand.  16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

If we are light-bearers Jesus isn’t going to hide our lights but put it out there for all the world to see. I’m reminded of Presiding Bishop Curry’s famous line, “God didn’t put you on this earth just to breath in oxygen!” Well Jesus doesn’t make us light-bearers to hide inside our building. He sends us out to do the hard work of spreading the gospel, by being the gospel. My final blessing each week is a reminder of this and is known as the Franciscan Blessing. It’s all about sharing the light of the gospel with a world that needs it.

This prompts me to ask a spiritual direction type question; what does your light look like? What kind of God colored light do you share with the world? Maybe even more important is what does St. Paul’s light look like? What are we showing to the world? What are we called to show the world? I will leave those questions out there to ponder, for I believe the answer is part of our where do we go from here conversation. Think about it and let me know what the Spirit may show you. It struck me at diocesan council that we may need to plan some opportunities for us to gather and have a deeper conversation about this question

I believe though we have a bigger problem in the Episcopal Church in general and I know that Michael Curry agrees because I’ve heard him preach about it. We have hidden our light for too long, put a basket over our light. What makes us put a basket over our light? Evangelism is a fearful word for Episcopalians. Why is that? Think about what comes to mind for many of us? How many positive images do you have? Not many for many of us.

Evangelism is not about converting people! Evangelism is not about standing on a street corner and yelling at people or getting in their face about how they need to be saved. The meaning is one who shares the gospel, literally shares the good news of God of Love. Evangelism is about living in a manner that shows the gospel of love to people, invites them to inquire and then learn for themselves what the gospel has to offer them.

Now there are two parts which come next. First of all is that we will spend Christian Formation in Lent looking at the Way of Love that Bishop Curry introduced in the summer of 2018 at General Convention. Click here to see a video introducing the Way of Love. I urge you to go and watch his full convention sermon. It is worth the 30 minutes that it takes. Click here for that sermon. The Power of Love piece is at about 14 minutes into the sermon. Now this is not a program but rather it goes back to the ancient tradition of a Rule of Life. This is a way to live a life that connects us to God and to Jesus.

This way of love is the major evangelical push from our national church and starts with internal work. Work that will help your flame burn brighter and get you ready to go out for the next piece. Because we cannot give away what we do not have. I invite you to join me in looking at this during Lent

The second piece is something I talked to the search committee about and I believe you did some preliminary work in. That is the Invite welcome connect program. This is how we go out into the world and share that gospel. I mentioned it briefly last week during the announcements when I talked about going to a Welcome roundtable last week. This is how we plan to go out and invite people to come here, welcome when they come and then connect them into our parish life.

A small group from our Hospitality crew is forming to take a careful look at how we welcome visitors to our parish, how we can do a better job of inviting people to walk in our doors in the first place and then how do we turn that visitor into a member.

Knowing that we will be actively working on this area, I really do want to return to the questions I posed earlier. What does your light look like? In what ways do we put a basket over our lights? How might I help you let your light shine. On the larger scale, what does St. Paul’s light look like and how can we make that light a beacon to draw people into our wonderful parish. Bishop Doyle in his address to convention dared us to be bold, to do something new, to explore ways to be church that are out of our comfort zone. A great place to start is to acknowledge that we are a great parish, let’s not keep that a secret. Take that basket off and let our light shine.