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Reflection for the fifth Sunday in the season of Epiphany, Feb. 5, 2017

Based on Isaiah 58: 1-12 The fast God chooses

And

Matthew 5: 13-20 You are salt, you are light.

Opening Prayer:  May the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we experience as we reflect together on God’s word for us this day, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

A highlight of my ministry here at Knox happened last summer when I had a chance to take part in a vacation bible school camp at Kerrisdale Presbyterian church, just a few blocks east of here on 41st Ave. 

What a lot of fun we had working together!  Also participating were about 14 children and youth who attend the Taiwanese Presbyterian church which shares space and some programs with the Kerrisdale congregation. 

The biggest learning piece for me was how very clear the participants were about the reach of their ministry. For example, when we were singing 'This Little Light of Mine' and we got to the part about where we were going to shine our light, the minister would shout out: “Where are we gonna shine?”  And with great glee and great gusto all the participants would sing out: “All over Kerrisdale! We’re gonna shine all over Kerrisdale!” 

Even though it was something of a familiar game they shared,  it did capture my attention. Right in the middle of having some fun singing a favourite camp song, those children and youth knew exactly where they were called to shine their light in the world!

This brings me to our reading from Matthew’s gospel this morning as we hear the second of five parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

Now if you were here last week or if you are part of a local bible study, or if you are inclined to follow the readings we are choosing for the season of Epiphany, you might remember how the first part of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount begins.  

It begins what is commonly called The Beatitudes-those words of blessing Jesus offers all those gathered on the mountainside. 

You know- the ones he names? The poor in the spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who show mercy, those who are peace makers, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the pure in heart, the persecuted, and the reviled....

These ones, so long on the margins of culture, are the very ones who have found favour with God because of their vulnerability. 

In this morning's reading, Jesus goes on to describe for them how they are like the salt of the earth and the light of the world. 

It would most certainly not be lost on those first century listeners’ to this story from Matthew’s gospel, that Jesus is comparing those gathered with common elements central to everyday living in first century Palestine. 

Calling those gathered salt and light, Jesus goes on to remind them not to waste their saltiness or hide their light under a bushel.  Instead he reminds them of this: Use your gifts of saltiness and light in meaningful and purposeful ways.

What would it have been like to be there on that hillside and hear this good news? 

How would the poor, the sick, the demoniacs, the last, the lost and the lonely respond to being told they were needed? 

How would have been to be in that number when they were told, not only that that they were welcome in this new place but, even more that they were needed to take their part the building up of new relationships and new ways of being in community as faithful followers in the way of Jesus?

This place where all will be welcomed and included, where the last shall be first and the first last Jesus commonly calls the Kingdom of God. 

It's one so radically different from what his followers would have experienced in the rigid stratification of Roman Occupation and oppression, they must have felt overwhelmed and probably quite stunned at this invitation.    

After all, being invited into the serious work of what Marcus Borg has been quoted as calling 'God’s great clean up of the world' would not be for the faint of heart. 

From here, Jesus goes on to explain to all those gathered together on the mountainside of this:  Radical as his sermon might sound to those ones eager to maintain the status quo, his purpose is not to abolish the law the listeners know only too well but rather, to live it.  

Reminding all with ears to listen of the foundational underpinning of their faith ancestors Jesus also calls all those gathered on the mountainside to the work before them: To love God with all their hearts and minds and souls and to love their neighbour as themselves.  Or, as St. Francis of Assisi would say:  Go out and preach the gospel and if necessary, use words. 

I have been thinking lately of how soon our annual meeting time here at Knox will be upon us. 

Part of our work as a community of faith in our preparations for that meeting is to reflect on all the events of the last year and to consider how we have offered relevant and meaningful programs or events in the name of our vision and our mission statement based on words from the prophet, Micah:  We are called to love justice, seek kindness, and walk humbly with our God. 

This, so as to embody the building up of God’s vision of Shalom in this time and in this place. 

It feels timely and right, I think, for us as a church community to continue to reflect on where we have been salt or light for one another, and where it is you might imagine we can direct our time, talents, and imagination for this ongoing human project.

Recently a dozen or so of us gathered in our fellowship hall to meet with Heidi Morgan, who is the new volunteer coordinator down at First United. 

She came, at my invitation, through our Stewardship and Social justice team to talk with us about how we might strengthen our hospitality skills for meeting our many vulnerable guests exactly where they are at when they join us for our monthly community lunch. 

Many of you will recall meeting Heidi when she came as a guest speaker in worship a few months ago. 

Heidi is one of those salt of the earth people who has chosen to shine the light of God’s love living in and through her in the downtown eastside. 

But, a few days after our meeting, Heidi was in touch again to see if she could come and join us and learn more about how it all comes together as we offer this vital ministry here at Knox. 

It is just such experiences as these that help me to know that together with folks from the downtown eastside, we are beginning to be able to shout out where the light of God’s love is shining within and beyond the walls of this particular United Church of ours.

A little later this morning, we will hear a word from another friend from the wider community, the Rev. Julie Lees, Student Recruitment Coordinator for the Vancouver School of Theology. 

I know that over the years, Knox has supported more than half a dozen candidates for ministry whose experiences of vocational formation through you, the people of Knox, has led them off in all sorts of directions so as to be salt and light for others. 

In the meantime, let us continue to reflect on the light each one of us carries inside and the hopes we bring to our ministries of healing and hospitality on behalf of the last and the least, the lonely and the afflicted and our shared dream for the building a community-a place where all are welcome and feel included so much so that the light of our love will continue to shine brightly within and beyond our walls.

Let us not distract ourselves by the busyness of everyday living that we forget that we are called to walk with one another and all those beyond our doors so that God’s vision of Shalom might become real right here and right now. 

Where? 

All around the Dunbar-Southlands neighbourhood and beyond its boundaries!

For all of this and more, I pray, thanks be to God and may it be so, amen.