The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, 2022

November 27, 2022 | by Bruce Epperly

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Isaiah 58:1-9a Psalm 112:1-9 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 Matthew 5:13-20

In the course of my career as a professor, university chaplain, and congregational pastor, I have often taught faith formation through the use of affirmations, short declarative sentences, that reveal deep truths about ourselves, God, and the world. For many years, I concluded most of my children’s messages (words for all God’s children) with the words, “God loves you. You matter. You can do great things for God and others.” The adults needed to hear that, too!  I believe that if we embody these affirmations, we will live full and rich lives, of service to those around us. I believe that affirmations, regularly repeated, serve to transform both our conscious and unconscious minds. They become the intentional self-talk that supports self-esteem, agency, responsibility, and spiritual growth. Today’s Gospel contains one of the most powerful affirmations in scripture, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”  Or, if you want to be personal, you can follow Jesus and affirm, “I am the light of the world.”  Being the light of the world, and knowing it, awakens us to the power and possibility residing in ourselves and our ability to let our light shine so that God may be glorified by our good works of service to others.

As a child, I learned “This little light of mind, I’m gonna let it shine.”  That shining light is the heart of process theology and spirituality – process theospirituality.  God’s inner light shines in all of us, through God’s “superjective” presence, providing possibilities and the energy to achieve them.  God’s possibilities are energetic and aim us toward ever wider circles of loving and healing energy.  Our light is for ourselves and for the world.  We experience the joy of the inner light, but also the light that shines “everywhere I go,” the light that cannot be “hidden under a bushel basket,” but radiates across the universe, far and near.

We need divine light.  The forces of chaos and division threaten our nations and the planet.  Violence, earth destruction, racism, homophobia, anti-democracy put all humankind and the non-human world at risk.   We must take Jesus’ affirmation and command seriously and let our light shine in the ethical abyss of our times. Light is about power, but it is a different kind of power – the power of vision, justice-seeking, healing, and creative transformation even if we must employ prophetic denunciation and counter the violence of those for whom violent power is the only path to achieve their goals.

Opening to God’s light, seeing the light in yourself and others, opens us to a greater stream of divine possibility and energy for ourselves and the world.  As light-bearers and light-seekers, we align ourselves with God’s aim at beauty and healing and let our light shine in world loyalty.

The Corinthian reading is grounded in another affirmation: “I decided to know nothing among you except Christ, and him crucified.” Paul’s Christology is cross-centered.  Christ is the Word made flesh, the creative wisdom and energy of the universe, and also the one who suffers for our liberation and healing. First comes the Incarnation, the creative Word that enlivens and enlightens all things, who holds creation together.  Second, the Word made flesh embraces the world in its tragic beauty. The Crucified Christ reveals the humility of God, as Bonaventure asserts, not ruling from afar but being immersed in our world of pain and possibility.  Paul’s Corinthian reading can be heard in light of Philippians 2:5-11. God’s glory is in empathy not apathy.  Having the mind of Christ means living empathetically and lovingly, going beyond self-interest to respond to the pain of the world.

Isaiah’s passage is an invitation to bearing the light.  Isaiah’s listeners complain that God is not answering their prayers when we don’t receive his response.  You do not experience God’s presence because you do not pursue justice, so says the prophet.  Prayers without hands and feet are of no value.  Faith without works is dead.  If you awaken to God in your kin, your lives will be transformed, you will experience God personally, and this will be reflected in national wellbeing.  A just country is a healthy country.  Here is Isaiah’s counsel for Jerusalem and for us.

“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 rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

We are to be light bearers and light sharers.  Seeing the vulnerable as kin, and giving them sustenance out of our bounty, knowing that giving and receiving are one dynamic reality.

Psalm 112 continues the theme.  Those who rise from darkness, living in divine light and healing, feeling at home in the world are those who are “gracious, merciful, and righteous.”  Their wellbeing and their neighbor’s wellbeing constitute one reality.  The experience the peace that comes, as Whitehead says, from widening self-interest in such a way that the small, self-interested self is loss in identification with the largest circles of selfhood, human, planetary, and divine.

Let us be light-seekers, light-seers, and light-bearers to our world.

Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including The Elephant Is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision Of Contemplative Activism; Mystic’s In Action: Twelve Saints For Today; Walking With Saint Francis: From Privilege To Activism; Messy Incarnation: Meditations On Process Christology, and From Cosmos To Cradle: Meditations On The Incarnation. His latest book is The Prophetic Amos Speaks To America. He can be reached for seminars and talks at