By The Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
Most of you are probably aware, as I am, that we are preparing for a transition. In fact, we’ve already begun it. Today and next week are my last Sundays as Associate Rector at Saints James and Andrew, after which I will join the good folks of St. Mary’s in the Mountains in Wilmington, Vermont, in figuring out how to best live into the Gospel in that context.
Change is hard. Whether an upcoming change is something we’ve chosen, or it’s something that was chosen by someone else, and even when there are elements of what is coming that we are excited about, it’s difficult. Change involves the loss of the familiar. It magnifies the uncertainty – which we’re always living with, but often manage not to think about – the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead, and what it will be like, and how we’ll manage it.
In these days of preparing for transition, of living with the challenges of change, it would have been lovely to hear a nice, uplifting set of readings. Well, as you may have noticed, we don’t always get what we’d like.
This morning’s readings are, in fact, rather off-putting. First we heard the familiar story of the crossing of the Red Sea, as the people of Israel fled from their enslavement in Egypt. It was a great day for the Israelites, but not so much for the Egyptians, who wound up, as the narrative tells us, “dead on the seashore”.
And then we heard Paul, in his letter to the Romans, lecturing about not showing judgement toward others.
And finally, one of Jesus’ hard parables speaking to the question of forgiveness, with a servant handed over to be tortured because he was unwilling to forgive a neighbor’s relatively minor debt. Not very uplifting.
But the scriptures always have something to say to us, so let’s dip in.
Both Paul’s letter and Jesus’ parable are follow-ups to the texts we heard last week and both remind us of some of the worst of our human inclinations when we live in relationship with other people. Given that times of transition, when we may be feeling somewhat frail in our uncertainties, may be times when we are particularly prone to responding out of our less-generous proclivities, perhaps it’s good to be advised as we are by this morning’s lessons.
As Heather helped us to understand last week, in his missive to the Church in Rome, Paul was addressing himself to Christ-believing Gentiles, those followers of Jesus who had come from traditions outside of Judaism but were practicing their new faith within the context of the Jewish synagogue in Rome. They did not feel as recognized or included as they would have wished, and Paul advised them of their responsibility to exercise patience and continually seek to love their neighbors, even as their neighbors were apparently not as hospitable as they could have been.
In today’s continuation of this exhortation, Paul turns his attention to the believers’ inclination to judge others. Some within their community were committed to and practicing elements of Jewish tradition that Paul had declared to be no-longer-required for gentile converts, and the latter group were apparently frustrated and impatient that everybody was not on board with the program.
Isn’t it just always the case that when we’re feeling vulnerable ourselves, the behavior of others can get on our nerves with particular intensity? So, as we live with the changes ahead, let’s take Paul’s advice to heart, and take deep breaths when we feel like passing judgement, and do our best to remember that judgement is God’s job, not ours.
In the gospel passage we heard last week, Jesus provided guidelines for, likewise, handling conflicts and wrongdoing within the community of believers. He urged that when one member of the community does wrong to another, it can’t be swept under the carpet; communication and reconciliation need to take place. He emphasized the importance of accountability, teaching that the offending member should be spoken with by as many as necessary, including holding public discussion of the wrongdoing if it becomes necessary, until such time as the offender can acknowledge and understand their fault.
In this morning’s gospel, Peter follows up on that teaching by asking about the obligation to forgive others’ wrongdoings. He must have felt magnanimous in suggesting that he should be willing to forgive seven times.
Jesus’ reply was, basically, that we need to forgive past the point at which we can count. In other words Peter (and we ourselves) ALWAYS have to forgive, and we will never have forgiven “enough”.
Jesus’ answer was followed with a distinctly disturbing parable.
It’s about a king who shows mercy to servant who has accumulated an absolutely massive debt. The debt was more than the fellow could EVER hope to repay. After his initial impulse to hold the servant accountable and have him sold, along with all of his possessions and his entire family, the king suddenly and without explanation reversed course and declared the entire debt forgiven.
The experience didn’t have the impact one would have expected on the person whose debt had been excused. Instead of paying forward the compassion he had been shown, the servant who had been forgiven, when he in turn ran across a fellow servant who owes HIM money, was adamant in demanding that he be repaid. The one who had been shown mercy, when his opportunity came, had no mercy at all, and arranged for his debtor to be thrown into prison.
When the king learned of the first slave’s hard-heartedness, having received reports from the first servant’s offended colleagues, the king turned him over to be tortured.
Jesus tells the story with a frequent and familiar introduction: “God’s Realm is like this”, and it’s not hard to understand the point. This parable-of-the-Kingdom reminds Peter – and us - how extraordinary it is that we, whose failings are numerous, are yet loved and accepted by God beyond our deserving or our comprehension.
The parable asks us - how, then, can we fail to extend compassion and generosity to one another?
It’s a beautiful principle, but we all know how hard forgiveness can be.
Now, some offenses are really not too hard to forgive, and letting them go doesn’t cost much and even allows us to feel good about ourselves.
Other wrongs can be so deeply disturbing and cause us so much pain that they feel utterly unforgiveable. Some of the wrongs we experience in life cause true, ongoing hurt every time we think about them and seem like they’ll never go away. Probably the place where forgiveness is hardest is where the other person won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for their wrongdoing, let alone apologize.
Here's the thing, though, and I’ll bet we all know it: holding on to unforgiven hurts ultimately does more damage to the one who cannot forgive than it does to the wrongdoer. Nurturing resentment, hurt, and anger can become its own prison, leading us into bitterness and self-pity that separate us from others. Forgiveness, when we can offer it, frees us.
Martin Luther King had it right: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act,” he said; “it is a constant attitude.”
Jesus calls on us to live out of a spirit of generosity, just as God shows immeasurable generosity to us – not keeping a record of wrongs done to us and a tally what we are owed in compensation - but a spirit of compassion for the many ways in which we all stumble and fail, a spirit of readiness to extend new chances to others, to let them try again get it right, even if they don’t see the need to do so.
Having said all of this, I also believe that accountability is critically important, and that “get out of jail free” cards are not always called for, and not always what is best for us.
As an example, we live in a time, in this nation, when we need and are trying to come to terms with the deep and persistent wrongs – those of the past and those that continue - done by white America to our neighbors of color. Because of this depth and persistence of this wrongdoing, I see it as dangerous to hold up limitless forgiveness as an ideal.
I don’t have easy answers, but I do feel that there are some principles that are consistent with the Gospel that we need to hold in tension with the mandate to forgive.
Again, I don’t claim easy answers, but I think there are some principles we might apply when looking at the question of forgiving wrongdoings:
The changes ahead are going to require generosity, as well as patience, as we all find our ways. So let’s head into the transitions that lie ahead of us striving to live into and extend to others the inexhaustible generosity that has been extended to us.
Let’s proceed with patience and thoughtfulness, recognizing that when things are messy and times are hard, it’s easy not to be our best selves.
Let’s be gentle with ourselves and extend compassion to one another in ways that help us all to take responsibility for our acts and to live, more and more, into God’s dream for us.
And let us do it with thanks for God’s grace.
* Readings: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp19_RCL.html
These four passages – Jesus’ visit from Nicodemus, his encounter with the Samaritan woman, his healing of the man born blind, and his raising of Lazarus, which comes next week – are all crazy long. They contain some of the most extensive dialogue found in the gospels as well as some of the most complex plotting and the most provocative interpersonal dynamics.
John provides fewer accounts of Jesus’ active ministry than do Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but the episodes he does include, he develops in tremendous detail. As I observed when I reflected with you about the Nicodemus conversation, the community from which John’s gospel arose was deeply concerned about understanding the meaning of Jesus’ life, his identity, and the relationship between Jesus and God. These concerns of the young Church in the very last part of the 1st century Before the Common Era, were the beginning of an intense era in the life of the Church (that in fact lasted through the great Councils of the Church in the 4th century) in which pinning down the Church’s Christology – its understanding of the nature of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah - was a primary focus.
If we read John closely, we see that this is the thread that runs through the gospel, from the Prologue in which John declares that In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and throughout, including in this morning’s account of Jesus’ healing of the man who was born blind.
Before we take a look at other details and implications of this morning’s gospel, I’d like to zoom in on one little line that is part of the pattern through which John reveals his convictions about Jesus. Before he heals the blind man in today’s gospel, Jesus says to him “I am the light of the world.” This is one of SEVEN “I am” statements spoken by Jesus in John’s gospel. Scholars who write about these “I am” statements don’t even count such statements as the one we heard last week, in which after talking about living water and the coming of the Messiah, Jesus says to the Samaritan Woman “I am he.” I’ll leave it to you to listen for the “I am” statement coming up in next week’s gospel.
What’s the big deal about these “I am” statements? Do you recall the story of the call of Moses in Exodus? How Moses was confronted by a burning bush and heard a voice directing him to return to Egypt and lead his people out of bondage? In the communal memory of their relationship with God and of God’s saving activity on their behalf, this memory was and is one of the critical touchstones for Israel, for Jesus’ community. It would have been well known, as it was read from the Torah in the synagogue every year.
One of the questions Moses asks in that ancient story aims to understand God’s identity: “But who shall I say sent me?” The answer Moses heard was “I AM.”
Jewish hearers of Jesus’ repeated “I am” declarations, and readers of John’s gospel who were been grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures would have been immediately understood Jesus’/John’s reference: God was once again revealing God’s self, once again offering grace and salvation to God’s people, this time, in Jesus.
And so we have this rather crazy story of the healing of the man born blind. You may have had trouble following it as we heard it this morning because the plot is a bit of a jumble. It starts with Jesus’ disciples, upon seeing a man who was blind, begging, and, assuming that his blindness was a punishment for sin, asking whether it was the man himself or his parents who had sinned. Without any direct interaction with the man himself, Jesus applies mud to the man’s eyes and directs him to go to a sacred pool to wash.
And Jesus then disappears. When the formerly blind man returns with his sight restored, a complete hubbub ensues, with a wide cast of characters getting involved in the quest to figure out what has happened. Is this really the man who was blind? How then was his sight restored? The uneasy neighbors refuse to believe the man’s account of his own experience, and drag him before the local religious authorities, who in turn don’t believe his testimony, but instead, haul his parents out as witnesses. The parents actually don’t really want to get involved, fearing that coming down on the side of the controversial prophet, Jesus, would not be in their best interests. When the continuing dialogue between the religious leaders and the newly-sighted man leads to his offending them with the suggestion that they don’t really know as much as they think they know, they expel the man from the synagogue and, apparently, the community.
At which point Jesus returns, to offer consolation to the one who has been healed. He confirms man’s belief in the Messiah and informs the man that he is the one who has been expected, and offers a summary statement on the whole episode: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
I have often referred to Frederick Buechner’s suggestion that the gospel is a mirror that shows us ourselves1, and this certainly applies here. Today’s gospel is really a sad story of a group of people who are so unwilling to have their view of the world shaken up that they refuse to hear the truth about a healing that takes place right in their midst. It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad that not just the powerful religious leaders but also the ordinary townsfolk cannot believe the firsthand testimony of a person they know. “He’s blind. He can’t possibly be able to see now just because that traveling preacher smeared some mud on him!” “It must be somebody who just looks like him, probably trying to put something over on us.” “We’d better get rid of him!”
And this is, at least in part, my point about this story as a mirror. We have such a drive in us to fit the evidence to the way we already understand the world that it is really hard to remain open to new thoughts and new truths. When claims of a different reality nudge at us and make us uncomfortable, our impulse is to want to punish somebody. When Jesus says “I came into this world … so that those who do not see may see”, he’s not really talking about the man born blind: it is all of us that Jesus speaks about, even as he is also speaking to us.
I feel terribly troubled, and I suspect that many of you share my concern, that the cultural divides that exist not only in our country, but increasingly, it seems, in the wider world, seem to be hardening rather than easing. I worry terribly that diverging perspectives on gun ownership, and on what we have to acknowledge are real immigration crises throughout the world, and on voting rights, to name just a few, seem to have become intractable problems because we are so dug in to our differing assumptions and differing values that we cannot even talk to one another, let alone devise solutions.
I hope that I am clear that I think we are all guilty of this. It’s very easy for me to see the plank in the other person’s eye, to identify how narrow and selfish and unreasonable their positions are. I think that we Christians have Lent so that we can be thinking about the debris that compromises our own vision.
In her sermon last week Heather built on Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus that “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”, observing that in his outreach to the Samaritan Woman, Jesus EMBODIED that message of love. Heather went on to suggest that the story of the Samaritan Woman is an invitation to us to join Jesus in the work of reconciliation among peoples who are divided from one another.
I think that today’s story shows us the role that vision plays in the challenges of doing the work of reconciliation. In order bridge divides, we must be willing to see accurately, and overcome our own inclinations to remain blind.
When Jesus returns to the man born blind at the end of our gospel story, he promises that he has come into the world “so that those who do not see may see”. Jesus shows us God’s presence in the world and God’s wish to heal us. The vision we need is inner vision; the vision we need is wisdom and courage, to open our eyes to the truths that are not simple and not easy, and not necessarily the ones we’d choose.
What clouds our vision this week?
What are we having a hard time seeing?,
Where do we need healing?
Nicodemus was an important person: he was a big deal. As a Pharisee, he was part of the elite – better educated than most, a member of the Sanhedrin (or ruling council at the Jerusalem Temple), he was an insider and would have been accorded respect and privilege.
Pharisees were the most progressive of the Jewish sects that existed in Jesus’ time. Despite their rigidity in relation to applying the Law of Moses - which led to their conflicts with Jesus over his sabbath practices, for example - they believed that interpretation of the Torah, of scripture, was a matter of ongoing revelation. They were open to an evolving understanding of God’s intent for humankind, which may be what prompted Nicodemus to seek Jesus out to learn more about the new rabbi’s teachings.
It would certainly have been unusual for such an important person (and a member of the religious establishment) to seek out Jesus, and so it’s not surprising that he did so under cover of night. Nicodemus would not have wanted to advertise any association with this radical religious teacher. It seems that he couldn’t resist the impulse to learn more, however: he couldn’t dismiss his sense that “something is going on here….”
We never actually find out, in John’s narrative, what Nicodemus wanted from Jesus, because immediately after his initial statement acknowledging Jesus as a “teacher who has come from God,” Jesus effectively hijacks the conversation to launch into a line of instruction, with Nicodemus practically scrambling to keep up.
Jesus’ instruction addresses what one needs in order to to enter the kingdom of God. It includes a Greek term – anothen -that is difficult to translate, and that has caused consternation and controversy within Christian communities:
Jesus tells Nicodemus EITHER:
No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above OR
No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.
Nicodemus understands this statement literally, he gets stuck on and bewildered by the notion of a person having to physically re-enter the womb and experience literal rebirth.
Jesus, of course, is talking about something else, about spiritual rebirth, about making a fresh start. He tells Nicodemus that rebirth is not a matter of the physical self, but of the spiritual self, and is the work of the Spirit, leading one to new life.
This verse has been understood by some Christian groups as a specific requirement. Some believe and preach the necessity of being “born again” in a particular kind of experience, using particular language, in order to be “saved”. Connected to this is the belief that those who are not “born again” according to a particular formula are not truly redeemed. This understanding reflects an exclusive rather than inclusive perspective, and is not the understanding of the Episcopal Church.
But back to our gospel passage.
After the exchange about rebirth, Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus transitions into a sermon.
You’re probably aware of the ways in which John’s gospel differs from the synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke. It was written anywhere from twenty to forty years after the synoptics and includes passages of discourse – some of them quite lengthy – that are attributed to Jesus, and that represent what the young church had come to believe about the purpose of Jesus’ life. John’s community told stories – some of which we find in John’s gospel, that have Jesus explaining the meaning of his life and ministry.
The brief sermon that we hear Jesus offering to Nicodemus is one of these. It includes what may be most quoted verse in the Bible, which Marin Luther described as “whole gospel in a single verse”, John 3:15:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
This verse, like the one about rebirth, has sometimes been interpreted from an exclusive rather than inclusive perspective. Rather than emphasizing God’s love for the world – let’s notice, the world, not God’s love for the church, let alone any particular segment of the church – rather than emphasizing God’s love for the world, and God’s act to lead the world into abundant and eternal life, some focus on belief in Jesus as an absolute prerequisite for salvation, as if the text said “God gave his Son so that ONLY those who believe in him may have eternal life.” There is an important difference. Again, many do NOT read the passage this way.
Final verse of the text further reiterates and reinforces the theme of God’s expansive and inclusive love:
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
So what might Jesus’ words mean for us today? Is spiritual rebirth what we should be looking for? Is it something that takes place as an event, or is it a process?
Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see or enter the kingdom of God, a person must be born of the Spirit. Our ancestors in faith often taught that in speaking of the kingdom of God, Jesus was speaking of a realm that exists outside of the world we live in, one that we can hope to enter after our physical life ends.
Today we no longer understand God’s reign to be separate from the life we live here and now. Today we understand Jesus to have been preaching about what Presiding Bishop Curry refers to as “God’s dream”, the community of love, justice, and peace that God intends for God’s creation. This reign of God is a time of living in right relationship with ourselves, with one another and with God; it is a reality we can build in the present, and it extends into the “eternal life” that Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about.
To be “born of the Spirit”, I suspect, simply means living a life that grows out of our relationship with God.
I can best understand the idea of spiritual rebirth as being found in the gradual path of spiritual growth that we all work at over the course of our lifetimes. We work at spiritual growth through prayer and reflection, through study, through participation in worship, and through the experience of life in community, especially through our work together in service to others and to God’s world. Lent is the perfect time to focus on spiritual growth.
I also think that we can also experience instances of dramatic change of our spiritual awareness, times when the circumstances or events of our lives produce in us real moments of transformation, of opening and expansion, of new self-knowledge and deepening in our relationship with God. Some of these times of change grow out of the joyful moments in life – I think of the birth of children and how profoundly that experience alters our view of what is important – but many times our spiritual development is painful, and grows out of times of loss and failure that bring us up short, requiring us to look at the truth of our lives in new ways.
Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about spiritual rebirth suggest relationship and experience rather than doctrine and dogma. They describe a kind of spiritual growth that depends on courage and trust, but that leads to new possibilities of life marked by freedom, joy, peace, and love.
John’s gospel never tells us what impact the conversation with Jesus had on the man, Nicodemus, but the whole of John’s gospel provides quiet suggestions.
Nicodemus appears two more times in John.
As a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, John tells us that Nicodemus spoke up in defense of offering Jesus a fair trial, at the time of his arrest.
And finally, Nicodemus is the one who brings myrrh and aloes, along with Joseph of Arimathea, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial after his crucifixion.
Did Nicodemus turn toward rebirth, toward a life of faith in Jesus? It certainly seems to be John’s implication. Nicodemus’ story promises us that rebirth is possible, that change can happen. And if it can happen to Nicodemus, it can happen to us.
May we, in this season of Lent, like Nicodemus, dare to bring our questions and our uncertainties forward before God.
May we keep our eyes on Jesus.
May we find in ourselves the will and the trust to invest in our own spiritual growth.
May we, through God’s grace, travel toward new life in community with our sisters and brothers and live into an openness of heart, so that we may be reborn of the Spirit.
They are strong lessons we have heard this morning, with a common theme calling us to live into the work God gives us.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would definitely qualify to go on his “Greatest Hits” album. The Sermon, an extended set of teaching covering three chapters in the early part of Matthew’s gospel, is the longest passage of Jesus’ direct teaching that we find in the New Testament.
It wasn’t actually a single sermon, according to New Testament scholarship. It’s now believed that during the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, a set of his most important teachings was collected in a single document that circulated among the communities of his followers, and when Matthew came to composing his account of the Good News of Jesus’ life and ministry, he included this great chunk of teaching as one sermon delivered on a mountainside. (Luke has a largely identical sermon delivered by Jesus, but on a plain.)
In the sermon, Jesus begins by talking about God’s favor, by reflecting on those who are blessed, or fortunate, in their relationship with God. We heard “the Beatitudes” last Sunday. Today ‘we’ve heard Jesus’ teaching about salt and light, and his commentary on his relationship to the Law of Moses. Next Sunday we’ll listen to the core of Jesus’ ethical teachings in a series of proclamations know as “the Antitheses”.
One of my seminary professors described the Sermon on the Mount as “the constitution for the Kingdom of God”, what we would now call “the Reign of God”:
Jesus had preached that “the kingdom of heaven has come near”, and now Jesus was teaching his disciples what the Reign of God looks like in practice.
Last Sunday Julie reflected with us on Jesus’ observations about those who are blessed – who are fortunate, who find themselves in relationship with God. The commonality, she observed, is that the blessed, the fortunate, are those who are vulnerable, NOT those recognized as powerful and successful. The blessed are those who know both their own brokenness, she said, and who recognize the world’s brokenness and who hunger for justice.
The way Jesus uses language in this set of teachings is worth paying attention to. As he begins talking about those who are blessed, he speaks of them as “they”. But during his description of those who are blessed, however, it’s almost as if he realizes how important it is for his listeners, the disciples, to recognize that he is talking about them, and his pronoun switches to “you”.
And that’s where we take up the sermon this morning:
YOU ARE the salt of the earth.
YOU ARE the light of the world.
These are rich metaphors, for sure. Both salt and light have value because they transform things. They are positive metaphors.
Salt gives flavor and seasoning. It is used to purify and to preserve. Associated with sanctification in the ancient world, salt was used in sealing covenants and sprinkled on sacrifices. Although most of us consume more of it than we need, our bodies require salt to transmit nerve impulses, and to contract and relax our muscles. Salt affects what it touches.
Light enables sight; it illuminates; it provides it provides freedom for movement. We know, especially in the seasons when the sun’s light is decreased, how much light affects our moods.
Listen closely: in speaking of salt and light, Jesus was affirming his listeners, not prescribing. He didn’t say “you need to be salty” or “God wants you to be light”, but rather, “You ARE salt”; “you ARE light”.
This is the thing - we are called to manifest what we already are. We are not only blessed in the truth of our vulnerability, but the very being that God creates us with is what the world needs. Our words and our actions manifest God. Just as the salt and the light impact what they are applied to, God works through us to make a difference to those we come in contact with.
We are the salt that heals the world, the light that gives hope and courage, because, in our frailty and our brokenness, we know God’s loving presence. We are the city on the hill that makes God’s blessing and God’s love known to others.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? That we know what God calls us to? It is the living into it, the putting it into practice that is terribly hard.
And this is where I think we also need to listen to the prophet Isaiah.
The book we know as “Isaiah” is actually a compilation of several voices speaking from and to the Hebrew people over the course of generations. One part of Isaiah was composed during the Exile in Babylon and reflects hope for deliverance, while another expresses the joy of return to Judah.
Today’s reading, from the section known as Trito-Isaiah, reflects the disillusionment and despair of the post-exilic period, in which Israel had returned to the ancestral lands but was faced with famine, drought, failing crops, and strife in relations with their non-Hebrew neighbors, all struggling to survive under Persian rule.
Isaiah 58 cries out at God’s apparent disinterest in their plight. They seek God and believe they are practicing righteousness, but they don’t receive the response they look for:
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
The prophet’s answer, articulated in God’s own voice, reflects the same message we heard last week from the prophet Micah, that God is not interested in acts of religious devotion for their own sake. Isaiah lays out an accusation of hypocrisy: the people fast, but oppress their workers; they humble themselves but quarrel with neighbors.
The righteousness God calls for is care for the real needs of God’s children, and the righteousness of actions that work to bring justice:
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?
The passage then transitions into the assurance of God’s response:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
It is a very important connection that Isaiah clear: it is our efforts at doing God’s work that call God’s presence forth in the world. Saying the right things, going through the motions, don’t manifest God. Showing up is what God asks of us – showing up in all of our our imperfections is the work we’re called to. Theologian Sallie McFague famously said “If God is absent from this world, it is because we are.” *
Jesus’ message – to hearers in Galilee and to us today – is a word of love, hope, and reassurance, but it is a call to action.
It is about God’s favor, not God’s demands.
It is about God’s inclusion of those who feel excluded.
It is God’s affirmation of who we already are.
It is the invitation to be the salt and the light that the world needs.
The spring of water that never fails.
How will we do it this week?
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